Tag Archives: Public education

A Rotten Peach Poisoning Atlanta Public Schools

17 Apr

Sadly, the Atlantic Public Schools (APS) are careening from one destructive tragedy to the next. On the heels of the great cheating scandal of 2009, APS hired a leader of the destroy public education (DPE) movement as schools’ chief. Her “district turnaround” model includes making APS an all charter system.

Somehow, I got included in an email conversation between Ed Johnson, well-known education activist from Atlanta, Georgia, and a group of professors who study education issues. Mr. Johnson who ran for the Atlanta school board and has had opinion pieces published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, shared data from the just released NEAP testing. He provided eight graphs supporting the following conclusions:

“This preliminary look at APS offers the immediate data story that, in recent years, APS White-Black academic gaps have been made worse.  It is the same data story the Georgia Milestones Assessment System also tells; details differ, of course.  So-called school transformation, school turnaround, school reform, school choice, and closing public schools and opening charter schools must be considered negative contributing factors, as they promote bold, disruptive change; scripted teaching; instruction delivery; personalized mechanistic learning; and rigid academic performance.  These matters are contrary to purposeful, systemic improvement of APS as a public institution or public good.”

I assume Mr. Johnson wound not mind sharing his statement from a private email. He clearly would like this story to be disseminated. On the other hand, I will share non-public statements for the professionals but not their names.

Professor A replied, “Atlanta has a superintendent who favors charters, TFA, Relay ‘Graduate School of Education,’ and all things Reformy. Austin was very happy to get her out.”

Professor B retorted, “Castarphen is a nightmare.”

Professor A responded, “I agree.”

A professional from Georgia noted,

“Yes indeed. She’s all the reform titans’ poster super— and having been in Atlanta a few years now she is very likely to move onto somewhere bigger and for a bigger paycheck soon. Consider yourself warned other major American cities.”

Meria Joel Castarphen

Carstarphan and her father

Picture from the Saporta Report

Carstarphen was born and raised in Selma, Alabama. Her mother was an educator who spent 30 years in the classroom. In addition to her mother, Meria was raised by her father, Joseph, along with three sisters. Bearing a light complexion and a magnetic smile, this articulate black woman radiates natural appeal.

She attended Tulane University where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Spanish. Upon graduation in 1992, she returned to Selma to teach middle school Spanish. After four years in the classroom, it was off to Harvard. In 2002, Harvard University Graduate School of Education awarded her a Doctor of Education in Administration, Planning and Social Policy Concentration in Urban Superintendency [I guess that is a word at Harvard].

Carstarphen’s career flourished, going to Columbus, Ohio in 1999 as Special Assistant to the Superintendent. In 2003, it was Kingsport, Tennessee to be Executive Director for comprehensive school improvement and accountability. Then, the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) hired her to be their first ever, Chief Accountability Officer in 2004.

By 2006, the Washington Times reported, “The D.C. public school system’s $170,000 per-year chief accountability officer is scheduled to interview for a job with another school district today, less than 18 months after filling the newly created D.C. position.” The second highest paid employee at DCPS was headed for Saint Paul, Minnesota to be the boss.

Carstarphen the Bully Arrived in Saint Paul

Doug Belden of the Pioneer Press published a postmortem article called “Critics of Meria Carstarphen speak, hoping debate influences who succeeds her at helm of St. Paul schools.” Belden wrote of an interview with a local long-serving St. Paul Public Schools administrator:

“Mary Chorewycz says she used to tell people she wished Carstarphen had been a principal before becoming a superintendent, so she would have had the experience of not just coming up with a plan but also of working with people to get it enacted.

‘”If you verbally abuse those that must carry through that plan, it really diminishes the amount that is accomplished,’ said Chorewycz, former executive director of research and development, who left in 2007.”

 “One of the last straws for her, she said, was when Carstarphen came in one morning and harangued the group of nearly 20 senior leaders for about 40 minutes, telling them in a raised voice how incompetent they were.”

 “Chorewycz, an administrator in St. Paul schools for more than 30 years, said no superintendent in her experience “has prevented or inhibited so much through disrespect of people and ideas.”

During the three years from Carstarphen’s arrival in 2006, more than half of St. Paul’s top administrators left. Belden reported that the ranks of senior administration expanded, leading to a 20 percent increase in total administration salaries.

The Pioneer Press article quoted the district’s former Executive Director of Facilities, Patrick Quinn, “Meria’s confrontational style has rendered the administrative work environment toxic.”

Austin, Texas Hired a “Reformer”

To be fair, Carstarphen took on a difficult situation to become the superintendent of Austin Independent School District (AISD). Unfortunately, she used Austin’s financial issues to advance a DPE agenda. The Austin Statesman reported,

“Carstarphen has guided the district through difficult budget years. She and her administrative team inherited a $15 million shortfall in 2009-10 and closed that gap within one year, presenting a balanced 2010-11 budget. That same year, Carstarphen pushed the district to declare financial exigency — a state of fiscal emergency that would give the district greater leeway in terminating employees, including those with current contracts. The board balked at the idea, but less than two years later, in February 2011, followed her recommendation, which made way to ax more than 1,100 positions.” (emphasis added)

The “greater leeway in terminating employees” is a repeating theme for Carstarphen. Getting out from under state education law and gutting teachers’ rights are key levers in DPE aligned “reform.”

In 2011, Carstarphen ignored mandates to consult with the teachers union over school “turnarounds” and signed an agreement to turn the operation of Allan Elementary School and Eastside Memorial High School over to IDEA charter schools. Eastside Memorial High School had struggled for more than a decade to meet the standardized testing benchmarks set by the state of Texas and NCLB. Previously it was the first school in Texas shut down, reorganized and reopened under a new name. Allan Elementary  met the Texas benchmarks but this school in a heavily Hispanic neighborhood was also targeted for charter management.

The community near these schools fought back as reported in the Austin Statesman:

“The school board approved the partnership with what critics say was little discussion, prompting a backlash from students, parents and residents who protested outside the board room and marched in the streets. The charter operator also moved into Allan Elementary in the fall of 2012; 85 percent of students transferred out.”

Vincent Tovar a parent whose wife teaches in AISD, laid out a timeline of the IDEA debacle in his blog “Walter Crunkite.” The first entry says,

“November 3, 2011: First Community Meeting at Martin Middle School.  Tom Torkelson, CEO of IDEA, responds to an Eastside Memorial student’s question about Special Education.  Torkelson states that he doesn’t believe in dyslexia.  “Dys-teach-ia” is the problem.”

A group of education activists from Tennessee, SOCM, also produced a lengthy document about the IDEA opposition. They said,

“During the forums, it soon became amply clear that IDEA’s “direct teaching” curriculum consisted of little more than constant preparation for standardized tests with the students endlessly parroting answers to questions anticipated to be on the state’s Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS). IDEA later even admitted that its students in the Rio Grande Valley wore uniforms which were color-coded, not on the basis of grade or age, but on standardized test-score achievement, thus insuring the humiliation of older siblings by their more test-savvy younger brothers and sisters attending the same school!”

A researcher from Penn State University, Dr. Ed Fuller, produced a study that severely undermined the claims that IDEA charter schools were producing miraculous education outcomes.

In the November 2012 elections, three board members were replaced. In December, the new board cancelled the IDEA contract but Eastside – because of NCLB and Texas law – required a turnaround plan. The following month, Carstarphen indicated that the district did not have time to create an in-house plan, so a new private operator would be needed.

In 2014, the official annual board review of the superintendent praised Carstarphen for some work but criticized her relationships with community and staff. They did not offer a contract extension.

Vincent Tovar said, “Her corporate-reform-backed agenda didn’t fly here because we fought it, and that’s why she’s leaving.”

Austin Turned Against IDEA

Picture from SOCM Documentation of Austin Community Meeting, 2011

Hardcore DPE Style Reform Heads to Atlanta

Mark Niesse reporting for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution lead his Carstarphen story with “The probable next superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools is coming off a controversial tenure in Austin, Texas, where public ire over budget cuts and a school closing rose as much as the improved graduation rates and finances.”

Carstarphen found a perfect home. Georgia’s governor, Nathan Deal, is a DPE campaigner. His education agenda pushes the non-democratic takeover of public schools and supports privatizing them.

Carstarphen again encountered difficulties with her new employees. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported,

“The lawsuit, first filed in late 2015, contends the school district “has been attempting to replace experienced, higher-paid teachers with relatively inexperienced teachers at entry level salaries” since Carstarphen took over the top post in July of 2014.

 “The plaintiffs allege in court documents that the school district conducted investigations, or “witch-hunts,” against long-serving teachers.”

Another Journal-Constitution report says,

‘“After the big cheating scandal they brought in someone and basically her philosophy was, I’m going to change the culture of APS,’ said Lori Hamilton, an attorney representing the teachers. ‘And that meant out with the old.”’

 “In a separate pending lawsuit, another group of former Atlanta educators is suing the school district in connection with the decision to hire charter school groups to manage several low-performing schools.”

Atlanta magazine ran a sponsored article from the Atlanta Public Schools called “Atlanta Public Schools embarks on another full year of its journey of transformation.” The article states,

“As it moves into the 2017-2018 school year, Atlanta Public Schools (APS) continues a journey of transformation that creates choice-filled lives for each and every child in Atlanta.”

 “APS is in its second year as a Charter District, … A hallmark of the APS Charter System Plan is the implementation of signature programming for each school cluster, including International Baccalaureate, STEM, or College and Career Preparatory.”

 “In addition to the district’s core academic curriculum, APS’ Social Emotional Learning efforts … now span the district.”

Not only does APS now embrace DPE-inspired frauds, like STEM and SEL, it openly partners on the district web site with some of the most virulent promoters of privatizing America’s schools. There is a notice titled “Walton Family Foundation to Support Atlanta Public Schools Turnaround Efforts; $2.1 million investment will also expand access to student and school performance data.” The message from the Waltons says,

“We commend Superintendent Carstarphen and APS leadership for taking bold steps to improve schools in Atlanta, and know that students, parents, and educators will all benefit from these initiatives,” said Marc Sternberg, K-12 Education Director at the foundation. “Children win when parents have the opportunity to choose a great school from multiple high-quality options, and cities win when high-quality schools can grow to serve all students.”

The APS web site describes a charter district and provides a link to a PowerPoint presentation promoting it. APS officially writes,

“A charter system is a school district that operates under a performance-based contract between the local board and the state board of education. Under the Charter System, Atlanta Public Schools would gain freedom and flexibility from many state education laws and regulations in exchange for increased accountability for student achievement. A key element to charter system is moving decision making closer to where learning takes place. That means leaving decisions to the school system and to the schools within the system. It also means involving more people in the decision making process.”

Fight for High Quality Public Schools in Every Neighborhood

Atlanta, Georgia, is losing its neighborhood public schools run by elected school boards, just like Washington DC, Denver, Oakland and Indianapolis. Many American urban areas are headed in the same direction. New Orleans has already lost nearly all its public schools.

This is a tragedy. A 200-year legacy of quality public schools in every American community and neighborhood is being stolen from the people. The result will be horrible. Government spending on education further reduced and people with children paying out of pocket for competent schools. The unifying aspect of public education will be sundered.

There is a point of view that says, “The top priority of government is education.” Today, wealthy elites for reasons of personal religious view; out of control hubris; and economic greed are stealing this gift inherited from our forefathers.

“We are many, they are few.” People have the power and it is time to use it to end this mindless destruction of our free high-quality and professionally run universal public education system.

Oakland is California’s Destroy Public Education Petri Dish

28 Mar

These are interesting times in Oakland, California. The public-school system is again teetering on the edge of financial collapse. The Destroy Public Education (DPE) movement has succeeded in privatizing more than a quarter of the district and has fomented financial turmoil. Concurrently, a dynamic young woman, Kyla Johnson-Trammell, has been selected as the new Superintendent of Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). On that news, Oakland Magazine’s headline blared, “Finally Some Stability.”

Mike Hutchinson, an education activist from Oakland, told Capital & Main, that districts like OUSD are being used as a kind of policy Petri dish by charter supporters. It is how they are refining takeover strategies outlined for Los Angeles by the Broad charter expansion plan.

In the Capital & Main article author Bill Raden quoted Hutchinson,

‘“A lot of these policies were first tried out in Oakland,’ he said. ‘If you go back and look at the Eli Broad handbook on school closures, a lot of the source information that they used for that report is from Oakland. Because they used Oakland to experiment for a lot of these things.”’

It was Oakland’s famous mayor, Democrat Jerry Brown along with fellow Democrat Don Perata, who ignited the destroy public education (DPE) movement in Oakland.

Creating Economic Chaos to Privatize Schools

By 2003, OUSD Superintendent, Dennis Chaconas, succeeded in significantly improving many facets of the school district. Academic performance on state testing was up. The long overdue 24% pay raises that he and the board gave teachers in 2000 had halted the debilitatingly high teacher turnover rates.

However, as New York Times’s Dean Murphy reported:

“That Mr. Chaconas made enemies during his tenure as superintendent is not in dispute. Though he attended Oakland schools and taught here as well, from the very beginning he was considered a political outsider. The school board gave him the job in 2000 over the objection of Mayor Jerry Brown, who has made school reform a pillar of his term and who had pushed a City Hall official for the superintendent’s post.

“Mr. Chaconas acknowledges that as he focused on academics he paid too little attention to finances. Not enough money was allocated to pay for the raises for teachers, and the district did not count on a drop in state money because of its declining enrollment. Those and other problems went undetected, officials said, because of antiquated computer and bookkeeping systems.(emphasis added)

Ken Epstein of Oakland Crossings noted,

“At the time, State Schools’ Supt. O’Connell [Democrat] and influential State Senator Don Perata [Democrat] were instrumental in putting together a deal requiring the district to accept a $100 million loan, even though it was only $37 million in debt.”

“OUSD had adequate money on hand in a construction fund that could have temporarily paid off the shortfall, but the state would not allow Oakland to tap into that fund, though the practice was allowed in other districts.”

 “The loan from the state was spent by the state – with no outside oversight. The state administrator, a trainee of the Broad Foundation, spent the money as he saw fit.”

 “No audits were conducted for six years.”

It appears Chaconas realized that the OUSD accounting system was dated and needed modernizing. The conservative publication EducationNext said that in 2003 “New software, installed so that the school district could better understand its finances, had uncovered a $40 million deficit from the previous year.”

Like the Republican politicians in Detroit, Democratic politicians in California pushed OUSD into financial disarray. And like Detroit, Oakland’s financial issues were driven by declining enrollment stemming from the same drivers; privatization, gentrification and suburban development.

One of the new privatized schools undermining OUSD’s financial health was founded by Mayor Jerry Brown. It is called the Oakland Military Institute (OMI). The OMI web-site relates this telling history:

“OMI was founded in 2001 after a hard-fought two-year campaign led by then Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown. Governor Gray Davis [Democrat] helped secure the charter after local school boards rejected it. It was the first charter ever sponsored by the state, the first public military school and the first school sponsored by the National Guard.”

The elitist push to place military schools and no excuses charter schools like the KIPP franchise in minority neighborhoods is propelled by bigotry. The elites are implicitly saying “those people’s kids are not raised right and must be fixed.”

Politically and financially weak neighborhoods are easy targets for plunder.

Plenty of Uncle Tom’s and Stepin Fetchit’s to Carry the Billionaire’s Water

The Broadies of Oakland

Oakland School Superintendents Trained at the Unaccredited Broad Academy, Pictures from Broad Academy Bios

Since California took over OUSD, the district superintendent position has been a revolving door. The Black Organizing Project, took a strong position on the recent OUSD superintendent search. Attributing even greater significance to this latest selection because of the instability in the office of superintendent, they noted:

“… 9 superintendents in the last 16 years. …. It means for the last 16 years OUSD has not had a dedicated superintendent who is truly invested in the improvement and empowerment of Oakland youth, or creating healthy, supportive school climates.”

In 2003, the state of California took over OUSD and installed Randolph Ward, a recent graduate of the Broad academy, as superintendent.

The Broad Academy is an unaccredited administration training program for school leaders run by the Broad Foundation. Reporting in 2016, the New York Times Motoko Rich said, “His foundation has pumped $144 million into charter schools across the country, is embroiled in a battle to expand the number of charters in his home city and has issued a handbook on how to close troubled public schools.”

Broad’s theory is that public school administrators and elected school boards lack the financial background to run large organizations. Rich’s Times article explained, ‘“The new academy,’ he said, would ‘dramatically change this equation’ by seeking candidates in educational circles as well as recruiting from corporate backgrounds and the military, introducing management concepts borrowed from business.”

Chief school administrators trained at the Broad academy have a record of district disruption and fiscal mismanagement. John Deasy from the Broad class of 2006 was a disaster in LA. Jean-Claude Brizard from the Broad class of 2007 lasted just 17 months in Chicago. The Chicago Tribune reported, “The board gave Brizard low marks for the way he communicates and runs the district.” There is a long list of Broad trained failures and these harm people’s children.

Motoko Rich reported “During his time here, Mr. Ward opened two dozen small schools but also closed 14 schools. New charter schools were also opening, cutting into enrollment at district schools.” When Ward arrived in Oakland there were 15 charter schools and when he left for San Diego three years later there were 28 charter schools.

Ward moved on to become the superintendent of San Diego County Schools. Wards tenure in San Diego did not end well. The San Diego Reader reported, “Six months after San Diego County Office of Education superintendent Randolph Ward resigned amid allegations of fraud and mismanagement, turmoil at the office continues.”

Ward was succeeded in Oakland by his Broad Academy classmate, Kimberly A. Statham. Statham was elevated to superintendent for the remainder of the school year. She resigned at the end of the 2006-2007 school year to go to work for the new Superintendent of the Washington DC schools, Michelle Rhee.

Statham had come to Oakland from Baltimore with some baggage. The Baltimore Sun series “Where are They Now,”  announced, “Today’s installment features Kimberly A. Statham, the former chief academic officer for Howard County Schools who resigned following allegations of a grade changing scandal involving her daughter.”

In Washington DC, Statham was actually hired by Deborah A. Gist. Gist said she was aware of the grade changing scandal. The sun article shared, ‘“We discussed it really briefly,’ Gist said. ‘It seems clear that it was an unfortunate situation, and that Kimberly had done the right thing, and that she did not do anything that would concern me at all.”’

Today, Statham is the Deputy Superintendent of Montgomery County public schools and her friend Gist is the Broad trained administrator tormenting Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Statham was followed in Oakland by a third straight Broad graduate, Vincent Mathews a 2006 Broad graduate along with classmate John Deasy. Matthews oversaw district operations as state administrator from 2007 to 2009. By the time Mathews departed there were 32 district charters and one county authorized charter for a total of 33 charters.

The San Francisco Examiner reports that in 2001, Mathews was the principal of the for profit Edison School in San Francisco where he was accused of falsifying grades and pushing out low performing black students.

Mathews was the last state appointed superintendent in Oakland. He left Oakland in 2009 to be an Area Superintendent for San Diego Unified School District. Today, he is the superintendent of schools in San Francisco.

It was five years before the OUSD board – influenced significantly by big money – hired another Broad graduate, Antwan Wilson; class of 2014. Wilson came to Oakland from Denver where he served under Broad class of 2009 graduate Tom Boasberg.

After two and a half years on the job, Wilson left Oakland to be superintendent of schools in the nation’s capital. Soon after Wilson left Oakland, huge budget problems were discovered causing the school board to immediately order more than $15 million in mid-year budget cuts. When Wilson left there were 40 charter schools serving more than 25% of the students.

In an article detailing some of the mismanagement and greed in Oakland, Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post reported:

“Wilson brought in dozens of executive staff members from outside the Oakland district, creating new positions and departments that were not budgeted, and paying more than was customary in the district, …. In 2013, before Wilson arrived in Oakland, only four administrators earned more than $200,000; two years later, at least 26 did, ….”

Wilson pushed hard to create a unified enrollment system in Oakland, which is the big goal of charter school advocates. It gives them an appearance of legitimacy and opens up more sales opportunities. Motoko Rich reported, “Mr. Wilson says that a single application form, where parents rank their choices among all schools and students are assigned through a computer algorithm, will reduce the ability of well-connected parents to place their children in the most desirable schools and force charters to be more open about how they admit students.” (emphasis added)

Wilson has already resigned in disgrace from his Washington DC position. The Washington Times notice of his demise led with “D.C. Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson resigned Tuesday amid a scandal over receiving preferential treatment in the transfer of his daughter to a school outside her district in violation of a policy he had written himself.”

The DPE Strategy of Leveraging National Dollars and Local Dollars to Privatize Schools

Recently deceased T. Gary Rogers was the chairman and CEO of Oakland-based Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream, Inc., for 30 years. He also served as a former chairman of Safeway Inc., the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, and Levi Strauss & Co. The Roger Family Foundation he started with his wife Kathleen is a key local organizer pushing the Billionaire agenda of privatizing schools and promoting children being educated at computer screens. The foundation states:

“Today, Oakland’s local education ecosystem is in a much better place. The local charter sector continues to thrive, …. Agents for change have also taken root and sprouted. GO Public Schools Oakland, for example, has grown in its role in organizing, mobilizing, advocating, and engaging the community in local education governance and policy. …. The emergence of both the Oakland Public Education Fund (Ed Fund) and Educate78 have also added strong leadership and expanded the capacity of the local education ecosystem. The Oakland Ed Fund has emerged as the city’s trusted, go-to fiscal partner and funder convener, incubating nearly every significant education reform initiative supporting Oakland’s PK-12 system, including the Foundation’s Next Generation Learning Challenge in Oakland initiative.”

Education Cities, the soon to be replaced national organization for destroying public education, lists as its partner in Oakland, Go Public Schools Oakland. Go is a 501 C3 charity that funnels money to charter school incubation and other needs. Great Oakland Public Schools is Go’s dark money organization that takes advantage federal tax code 501c4 to funnel unattributed money into mainly school board elections.

The Rogers Foundation describes Education 78,

“Founded in 2015 as a spinoff from the NewSchools Venture Fund, Educate78 exists to ensure that every student, in all 78 square miles of Oakland, has access to world-class public schools. Educate 78 serves as a critical partner through their informed giving for quality schools development and in operating a school design lab, which provides tools, technical assistance, training, and coaching to both new charter school developers as well as district redesign teams.” 

The Ed Fund is a big 501 C3 foundation that that takes in large amounts of cash from mainly bay area billionaires and foundations then makes the money available to the privatization agenda. The Next Generation Learning Challenge is a Bill Gates sponsored initiative to promote the sale of technology into public education. It specifically promotes “blended learning” and “personalized learning.”

Many charter schools in Oakland are using children as guinea pigs for computer based learning strategies like “personalized learning,” which is truly an Orwellian moniker. The following chart lists foundation spending on this agenda (mostly in Oakland) in 2013.

2013 Sending to Promote Technoloty

Foundation spending on “Personalized” and “Blended” leaning in 2013

There is a New Sheriff in Town

A constant theme promoted by the DPE movement is “every student deserves a high-quality school.” When you hear a billionaire or one of his minions say this, you and your community are targets and your about to be fleeced.

The United States developed a unique education system that was the envy of the world and the great foundation upon which our democratic experiment in self-governance was established. Over two centuries, we developed a system in which every community had a high-quality public school.

These schools had professionals who earned their positions by completing training at accredited institutions. Government rules and oversight insured that school facilities were safe, and the background of all educators was investigated. In urban areas like Oakland there was a professionally run public school in every neighborhood.

Could it have been improved? Of course, and that is exactly what was happening before the deceitful attack on public education and teachers.

Kyla Johnson-Trammell Photo

Johnson-Trammell has overseen OUSD since July 1, 2017

Oakland magazine reported,

“After a superintendent brought in from the outside left the Oakland Unified School District in debt and disarray, a coalition of angry parents, teachers, and community organizers demanded that the school board appoint an executive with strong local ties. This spring, the board responded by hiring Kyla Johnson-Trammell as the district’s new schools’ chief. She officially took command of the 37,000-student district on July 1.”

 “Johnson-Trammell initially was not even one of the four finalists for the superintendent’s job, according to a coalition of interest groups that claims credit for raising such a ruckus that the Oakland school board changed gears and tapped Johnson-Trammell for the job.”

This is good sign. The billionaires were not able to pick another Broadie because the community was done with being abused. I hope the Oakland community rallies around this bright young woman, Kyla Johnson-Trammel, and shows the rest of California how to defeat the DPE movement. Let us once again have a professionally managed quality public school in every Oakland neighborhood.

Indiana’s Destroy Public Education Leader is Going National

19 Mar

Last week, a press release from The Mind Trust announced that founder and CEO, David Harris was leaving. Writing for Chalkbeat, Dillon Peers McCoy reported:

“Now, Harris is moving on from the city he helped shape to the national stage, although he still plans to live in Indianapolis. The national group is in the early stages of development, said Harris, who declined to provide more details about his co-founders or their plans. A release from The Mind Trust said the new organization aims to “help cities around the country build the right conditions for education change.”

Not the First Attempt to Go National

This is at least the third attempt Harris has made to take his brand to a national scale. In 2011, Ethan Gray then Vice-President of The Mind Trust became the founder and CEO of CEE-Trust. David Harris was on the Board. In the CEE-Trust’s earliest available web-page it states:

“CEE-Trust is led by The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based non-profit that supports education innovation and reform.”

 “CEE-Trust is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The Joyce Foundation. CEE-Trust is also grateful for the past support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York.”

CEE-Trust ran into rejection and legal malfeasance accusations in Kansas City. Chalkbeat reporter Matt Barnum says of the episode, “In 2013, a plan to reshape Kansas City’s schools was essentially run out of town.” Soon after that, CEE-Trust was renamed Education Cities.

In 2015, Harris motivated the establishment of a Mind Trust clone in Cincinnati, called Accelerate Great Schools. Doug Martin, the author of Hoosier School Heist, reports that “Patrick Herrel, a former Teach for America recruiter and past vice president of recruitment for The Mind Trust, was picked by the corporate powers-that-be in 2015 to lead the Accelerate Great Schools.”

Gayle Crosby, a recent Indiana Public Schools board member, shared that in less than two years (January 2017) Herrel was back in Indianapolis:

“This month the brand new IPS board saw it fit to appoint Patrick Herrel to be the Director of Student Enrollment and Options.”

“Patrick left the Mind Trust and Indianapolis to be the Director of the Mind Trust #2 in Cincinnati.  Now he is back to run Student Enrollment and Options at IPS.  And he doesn’t come cheap:” $110,000 per year.

Who is Behind the New National Organization and Why Harris?

Harris is a lawyer and a political operative, not an educator. He never studied education nor has he ever spent meaningful time in front of a classroom and it seems he never attended public school. He does not understand education but he does understand the use of political power. He has a demonstrated ability to advocate, organize and use the levers of government. He is in possession of an innate wisdom; unfortunately, it is an evil wisdom.

His Mind Trust Bio tells us that he was a 27-year-old lawyer working at the Indianapolis law firm of Baker & Daniels when he joined Democrat Bart Peterson’s campaign for mayor to be his “education guy.” He spent five years as Mayor Peterson’s Charter Schools Director.

All of the news accounts about Harris leaving Mind Trust repeat this same talking point from the Mind Trust news release, “The Mind Trust also has recruited top national organizations such as Teach For America, TNTP and Stand for Children to Indianapolis.”

TNTP was called The New Teachers Project when Michelle Rhee used it to gain a national reputation by bashing teachers. TNTP and Teach For America (TFA) were founded by Wendy Kopp whose husband, Richard Barth, is CEO of the KIPP charter school chain. Without the generous funding by Gap founder Doris Fisher, KIPP would be unknown. TNTP and TFA only exist because of massive funding by Dell, Broad, Arnold, Gates, and Walton. Stand for Children is little more than a dark money conduit for the billionaire dollars flowing into the destroy public education (DPE) movement’s political campaigns.

Intellectually, these organizations are lightweights when it comes to education leadership and pedagogy. However, they have become the billionaire’s school privatization army. Many TFA members spend their two years in a classroom; then became a well-financed charter school founder or a teacher trainer at TNTP or a well-funded school board candidate.

If Harris knew anything about education, he would have never shunned the departments of education at the University of Indiana or Indiana State University or Purdue University. He would not have turned to TNTP to train school leaders. He would have never recruited TFA teachers with no education studies, no experience and five weeks of training. Obviously, improved education was not the goal.

Now that Harris is stepping down at The Mind Trust, he is being replaced by TFA alum, Brandon Brown.

David Harris and Brandon Brown

Photo from Chalkbeat of Brandon Brown (left) and David Harris (right) by Dylan Peers McCoy.

Lately, things have been really good at The Mind Trust. Last April (2017) Lindsey Erdody writing for the Indiana Business Journal said, “Mind Trust [is] drawing big dollars from national donors.” Lindsey quotes David Harris,

“I think we have recognized in the last year or so the significant national interest in supporting the work that’s happening here,” CEO David Harris said. “I don’t want to suggest we haven’t gotten any national funding before, but the big funding is really coming in now.” (emphasis added)

Erdody continued:

“Since 2015, The Mind Trust has raised $31 million, with sizable donations from national entities, including the Arkansas-based Walton Family Foundation and Austin, Texas-based Michael and Susan Dell Foundation.”

However, the biggest donation comes from Mr. Enron, John Arnold – $11.1 million. Erdody quotes Arnold,

 ‘“If Indianapolis is successful in doubling the number of kids that are attending high-quality schools, it will be one of the best investments that the Arnold Foundation has made,’ Arnold said in the video. ‘Indianapolis has this great chance and opportunity to show the nation what can be done.”’

I wrote a post about The Mind Trust in January. In it I shared the following table of grants supporting Harris’s organization.

Lilly Endowment

2014 Mind Trust $4,929,000

2015 Mind Trust $18,000

2016 Mind Trust $7,170,000

Total $12, 117,000

{Big Pharma Money}

Gates Foundation

The Mind Trust

Oct. 2012 – $1,420,000

Aug. 2011 $539,334

Total $1,959,334

{Microsoft Money}

 

Walton Family Foundation

2013 Mind Trust $23,000

2014 Mind Trust $650,000

2015 Mind Trust $1,200,000

Total $1,873,000

{Walmart Money}

 

Arnold Fund

The Mind Trust $11,075,000

{Enron Money}

 There is no official word about the new national organization’s co-founders, but it is nearly certain that Gates, Walton, Dell and Arnold will be involved.

The advent of this new organization must mean that the billionaire education privatizers are not happy with the results so far. Education Cities is just not getting it done. The billionaires want Harris to take the lead and not one of his lieutenants. Since, he is already making $300,000 a year at The Mind Trust, I can’t wait to see how much this new organization is going to pay him.

The David Harris Reform Agenda

Harris will use legislative initiatives and big money to undermine democratic control of schools and teachers’ unions. He will claim that laws protecting teachers and students are interfering with the ability to improve schools. He will push the “reformer” lie that public schools are failing. He will claim that this privatization agenda is only motivated by the conviction that “every child deserves a great school.”

Jim Scheurich, Professor IUPUI School of Education recently wrote an article he called, “Business is a Horrible Model for Education and ‘Educational Reform.”’ In it he states,

“This Big Money, working through the Mind Trust network, put up the money to get all of the current school board members elected. To do this, while it used to take $3-5,000 to run successfully for the school board, it now take $50-80,000. Thus, the Mind Trust network and the Big Money behind it made it nearly impossible for ordinary local people to run for the school board, and thus they bought the current school board.”

Denisa R. Superville writing in EdWeek about Harris’s resignation reports,

“The Mind Trust was a supporter of a 2014 state law that allowed Indianapolis to create ‘Innovation Network Schools’—schools that were freed from some of the restrictions on traditional public schools, including giving those schools full operational autonomy.  While the Innovation Network Schools remain part of the Indianapolis district, their teachers are not covered by the district’s collective bargaining agreement. 

In conjunction with the city and the school district, The Mind Trust launched the Innovation Network Fellowship to help school leaders refine their designs for new schools or to restart struggling ones. The group has helped to support 17 such schools.

Innovation schools are an agenda of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Their web site summarizes the proposal:

“The Innovation Schools and School Districts Act creates a mechanism for schools, groups of schools, and districts to adopt plans that try new ways of delivering instruction and/or allocating resources. It creates a new classification of school districts, “Districts of Innovation,” that have one or more schools implementing these plans. Districts of innovation are provided a greater degree of autonomy and can waive some statutory requirements.” (like honoring union contracts)

David Osborne reporting for the neoliberal Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) was full of praise for The Mind Trust. In describing their embrace of innovation schools, he said,

“Today it is innovating again: Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) is authorizing ‘innovation network schools’: district schools with performance contracts and full charter-style autonomy. Some are charters, some are startups, and some are existing IPS schools that have converted to innovation network status. All have independent boards organized as 501(c)3 not-for-profit organizations; all are outside the teachers’ union contract; and all use IPS school buildings. …Though other cities have their own versions of ‘innovation schools’ or ‘pilot schools,’ only Indianapolis has given them the full autonomy and accountability charters enjoy.” (emphasis added)

Stephen Goldsmith, Professor of practice at the Harvard Kennedy School and director of the Innovations in American Government Program, wrote in Governing magazine praising The Mind Trust. He highlighted the push for “Innovation Schools” writing:

The result was the creation of what are called “Innovation Network Schools” launched by the Mind Trust. Indianapolis now has nine of these schools, with more to come, that are accountable to and part of the Indianapolis Public Schools but whose teachers and principals operate with significant entrepreneurial freedom and with an authority to mold their schools as they see fit.”

The Koch brother funded ALEC, the neoliberals at the PPI, and the neoliberals at the Harvard Kennedy School all sing from the same hymnal. They are all preaching that teachers unions are an impediment to improving education, as is democratic control of schools by local communities. David Harris and his DPE allies teach that regulations controlling schools are stopping innovation and positive school reform. They advocate creating unelected entities and giving them unfettered control of schools. The only accountability will be meeting measurable objective targets on standardized testing.

Rules setup by district and state governments responsible for schools have a purpose. They are there to protect children, teachers and taxpayers. They are there to insure competencies in hiring and curricular selection. A Voice of San Diego article highlights one example of the increased risk to students from privatized schools not required to follow district and state regulations:

“California public schools are seen nationally as the gold standard for seismic safety under an exacting law called the Field Act.”

“[N]ot all schools are subject to the rules. Preschools aren’t covered by them. Private schools are covered by a separate, slightly less demanding law, which doesn’t apply at all to older private schools. And charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently run, don’t fall under the Field Act unless they accept state facilities money — something that is rare here — or use district buildings.”  

Conclusion

Before David Harris came on the seen in Indianapolis, there were professionally managed high-quality public schools in every neighborhood. Parents knew that just down the block their second grader was safe and cared for by certificated trained education professionals. That is gone.

After the Harris announcement, a victim of his style of education reform, shared:

‘“I honestly think that if The Mind Trust … hadn’t been in Indianapolis over the past 10 or 11 years, that IPS would not be decimated and flailing like it is now,’ said Chrissy Smith, a parent and member of the IPS Community Coalition, a local group that is critical of the current administration. ‘We would not see innovation schools coming in. We would not see the proliferation of charter schools.”’

DeVos Damages Detroit Schools

9 Mar

The destroy public education (DPE) movement’s most egregious outcome may be in Detroit and it is being driven by a virulent Christian ideology.

In 2001, Dick and Betsy DeVos answered questions for the Gathering. Dick DeVos opined that church has retreated from its central role in communities and has been replaced by the public school. He said it is our hope “churches will get more and more active and engaged in education.” Betsy noted “half of our giving is towards education.”

Jay Michaelson writing for the Daily Beast described the Gathering:

“The Gathering is a hub of Christian Right organizing, and the people in attendance have led the campaigns to privatize public schools, redefine “religious liberty” (as in the Hobby Lobby case), fight same-sex marriage, fight evolution, and, well, you know the rest.”

“The Gathering is an annual event at which many of the wealthiest conservative to hard-right evangelical philanthropists in America—representatives of the families DeVos, Coors, Prince, Green, Maclellan, Ahmanson, Friess, plus top leaders of the National Christian Foundation—meet with evangelical innovators with fresh ideas on how to evangelize the globe. The Gathering promotes “family values” agenda: opposition to gay rights and reproductive rights, for example, and also a global vision that involves the eventual eradication of all competing belief systems that might compete with The Gathering’s hard-right version of Christianity.”

In the Gathering interview, Betsy talks about how she and Dick both come from business oriented families. From their experience, they understand how competition and choice are key drivers to improve any enterprise. She says public education needs choice and competition instead of forcing people into government run schools.

She was also asked how she felt about home schooling? She replied, “we like home schools a lot,” and humorously shared, “not sure our daughters do, they were homeschooled for three years.” Then Dick added how impressed he was with Bill Bennet’s new project, K-12. He said it wasn’t a Christian oriented on-line curriculum but it was a complete education program that could help homeschoolers.

By the 1990’s Dick and Betsy DeVos were successfully influencing Michigan education policies and using private giving to drive their agenda. Christina Rizga wrote about the DeVos’s philanthropy for Mother Jones.

“… [T]here’s the DeVoses’ long support of vouchers for private, religious schools; conservative Christian groups like the Foundation for Traditional Values, which has pushed to soften the separation of church and state; and organizations like Michigan’s Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which has championed the privatization of the education system.”

As the new century opened, the DeVos agenda was being ever more adopted in Lancing. If improving the education of children in Michigan was the goal, then the DeVos education agenda has proved to be a clear failure. On the other hand, if destroying public education to accommodate privatized Christian schools was the goal, they are still on track.

DeVos Effect on NAEP Progress Graph

Going from 14th to 43rd is Anti-Progress – Graph Based on NAEP Data

This result from Michigan is consistent with education testing correlations throughout the world. Julie Halpert a writer from Ann Arbor, Michigan just published a new article in Atlantic Magazine called “What if America Didn’t have Public Schools.” In it she reports,

On a regional assessment conducted by the United Nations between 2004 and 2008, students in the all-public Cuba outperformed the largely private Chile in sixth-grade reading and sixth-grade math. In fact, Cuba is the only Latin American country with scores significantly higher than the regional average in both math and reading. Even the best students in Chile, Darling-Hammond of the Learning Policy Institute says, ‘couldn’t come close to touching’ Cuba’s results.

In his book Education and the Commercial Mindset, Samuel E. Abrams tells the story of the Swedes opting to privatize their schools. He wrote:

“Basic to the UR [the Swedish Educational Broadcasting Company] series was a crisis of faith in Swedish education known as ‘PISA shock.’ Of all OECD nations, only Sweden had seen scores on the triennial Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) successively drop with each administration of the exam since its introduction in 2000.”

Sarah and Christopher Lubienski conducted probably the largest and most comprehensive study of its kind, examining achievement in public and private or independent schools. Their study was published in 2014 by The University of Chicago Press under the title “The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools.” Some key findings:

“Further analyses indicate that academic growth is greater for students in public schools than for those in private schools.”

“While a simplistic look at the evidence suggests that private school students indeed score higher, closer scrutiny of the evidence rather conclusively demonstrates that this in not because public schools are failing but because they serve less advantaged students. In fact, public schools in this study actually add more value to their students’ learning.”

For the DPE movement, evidence about quality or outcomes in education are not relevant. For the billionaires driving education reform, it is about ideology and business.

DeVos Led Privatization Agenda Wreaked Havoc in Detroit

In 1999, under then Governor John Engler’s lead, Michigan did away with the elected school board in Detroit. They followed Chicago’s example and gave school control to the mayor. President Clinton had proclaimed mayoral control a success there.

The Associated Press’s Corey Williams explained:

“In the late 1990s, then-Gov. John Engler, a Republican, wanted to intervene in districts where more than 80 percent of students failed the state proficiency test or the dropout rate was higher than 25 percent. The state said the graduation rate of the 180,000-student Detroit district was about 30 percent; district officials said it was closer to 52 percent.”

 “The state returned control to an elected board in 2005, even though Detroit students still ranked among Michigan’s worst on standardized tests, the district was $48 million in debt and had a $150 million budget shortfall.”

 “There was never anything pointing to this financial crisis” before the takeover, said Martinez, who with other school board members were forced from office in 1999. “When we left office, … we had a $90 million surplus.”

The reinstated 2005 school board did not fare well. It had a huge debt to deal with and by 2007 an FBI corruption investigation. Williams reported that a long-time vendor, Norman Shy, pleaded guilty in federal court to receiving $2.7 million as part of a kickback scheme in which some principals and an administrator issued bogus orders for supplies.

One of the big drivers causing student enrollment to drop in Detroit public schools were the privatization efforts led by Betsy DeVos and her family. In 2001, the family started the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP), whose political action committee aggressively lobbies for charter schools.

According to Politico’s Zack Stanton, “In 2002, the first election of GLEP’s existence, its PAC had more money than the Michigan Education Association, United Auto Workers, or any Democratic-affiliated PAC in the state.”

Stanton continues:

“…, 16 years after the DeVoses’ failed constitutional amendment, this constant push has totally remade Michigan education. The cap on the number of charter schools eliminated and attempts to provide public oversight have been defeated, making Michigan’s charters among the most-plentiful and least-regulated in the nation. About 80 percent of Michigan’s 300 publicly funded charters are operated by for-profit companies, more than any other state.”

Steven Henderson reporting for the Detroit Free Press adds:

“The results of this free-for-all have been tragic for Michigan children, and especially for those in Detroit, where 79% of the state’s charters are located.”

Table of a Developing Financial Crisis in Detroit Public Schools

School Year Budget Balance Student Population Governance
1998-1999 $90,000,000 180,000 Elected School Board
1999-2005 $150,000 ,000 150,000 Mayor
2005-2009 $200,000,000 95,000 Elected School Board
2009-2011 $284,000,000 67,000 1st Emergency Manager – Bobb
2016 Total Debt $2,100,000,000 48,000 Emergency Manager – 4
Total Decrease in State Money 1999 to 2016 $788,000,000

The main cause of the red ink at Detroit Public Schools (DPS) is stranded costs associated with a dramatic drop in enrollment. The extra-costs associated with privatizing DPS were all born by the public schools.

Enrollment Graph

Copied from the 2015-2016 DPS State Financial Report.

Not acknowledging their own role in creating the financial crisis in Detroit, the state government again pushed the elected school board aside in 2009. Education policy was theoretically left under the purview of the school board but financial management would be the responsibility of a governor appointed emergency manager. This time it was a Democratic Governor, Jenifer Granholm who selected a graduate of the unaccredited Broad superintendents’ academy class of 2005, Robert Bobb, to be the manager.

Not only did Granholm select a Broad academy graduate, but Eli Broad paid part of his $280,000 salary. Sharon Higgins, who studies the Broad academy, reports that a civil rights group and a coalition of teachers who oppose charter schools questioned “whether Bobb was in conflict of interest for accepting $89,000 of his salary from a foundation that supports private and charter schools.”

Bobb made significant cuts to DPS. He closed many schools and eliminated 25% of the districts employees. He also sold several school buildings. The Detroit News reported in March 2010, “Instead of a $17 million surplus Bobb projected for this fiscal year, spending has increased so much Bobb is projecting a $98 million deficit for the budget year that ends June 30.”

Bobb blamed unforeseeable costs related to declining enrollment. Curt Guyette at the Metro-Times relates that many people blamed spending on high priced consultants and contracts. Guyette provided this example:

“Of particular note was Barbara Byrd-Bennett, hired by Bobb on a nine-month contract to be the district’s chief academic and accountability auditor. She received a salary of nearly $18,000 a month plus an armed personal driver. In addition, Byrd, a former chief executive officer of Cleveland’s public schools system, ‘brought with her at least six consultants who are collectively being paid more than $700,000 for about nine months of work,’ according to a 2009 Detroit Free Press article.”

In 2011, Republican Governor Rich Snyder ushered through two laws that had a negative effect on DPS. The first law, Public Act 4, gave the emergency manager total control and removed all powers from the elected school board. The second law, Public Act 436, created a state school district called the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) which took effect in 2013.

The EAA’s first task was to take over 15 of Detroit’s lowest performing schools. This immediately removed another 11,000 students from DPS and further stressed its finances.

Counting Robert Bobb there were five emergency managers at DPS between 2009 and 2016. Mercedes Schneider reports that “The most recent Detroit Public Schools emergency manager, Darnell Earley, is chiefly responsible for water contamination in Flint, Michigan.

By 2016, the schools of DPS were in such a disgraceful condition that the New York Times called them “crumbling” and “destitute.” The Times’ article included this quote: ‘“We have rodents out in the middle of the day,’ said Ms. Aaron, a teacher of 18 years. ‘Like they’re coming to class.”’

July 1, 2017 the EAA returned the fifteen schools to DPS and the Michigan legislature finally acted to mitigate the debt crisis created in Holland and Lancing not Detroit. Also on July 1, 2017 Nikolai Vitti the new superintendent of DPS took on the challenge or rehabilitating the public schools of Detroit.

The Destroy Public Education (DPE) Model Still Running

The researchers from Indiana who defined the DPE model are Gail Cosby, Nate Williams and Jim Scheurich. I paraphrased their model this winter in a December post:

  1. Business is the best model for schools.
  2. A local-national collaboration between wealthy conservatives. (Sometimes far right)
  3. Huge infusion of new dollars into school board elections. (Dark Money)
  4. Unified enrollment.
  5. Teach for America (or any instant-teacher-certification program) and groups like Teach Plus controlling professional development of teachers.
  6. Innovations Schools. An ALEC sponsored charter conversion model.
  7. A funding conduit for national-local wealthy individuals and organizations to support local DPE initiatives.
  8. Integration of charter schools into traditional public schools with rules favoring charter schools.
  9. Developing networks of local organizations or affiliates that collaborate on the agenda.
  10. Support for gentrification.

Education Cities bills itself as a national leader in the DPE movement. On their web-page, they list Detroit Children’s Fund and The Skillman Foundation as their partners in Detroit.

The Skillman Foundation has a little more than $400 million and they seem to be the main local financiers of the DPE movement in Detroit. Detroit Children’s Fund (DCF) appears to be the political organizers. DCF says of itself:

“Detroit Children’s Fund (DCF) has partnered with School Empowerment Network (SEN) to offer an intensive development opportunity for school leadership teams.”

“DCF is powered by a deep partnership with the Skillman Foundation. The Foundation has been working in Detroit since 1960 and is recognized as lead advocate for children in the city. Detroit Children’s Fund and the Skillman Foundation share staff, allowing DCF to leverage the Foundation’s deep relationships and knowledge.”

Instead of partnering with the venerable education departments at Michigan State and University of Michigan, Skillman partners with lightly credentialed and inexperienced non-profits to provide teacher professional development. Only a privatization agenda explains this strange behavior.

In the last few years, Skillman has made grants to; TFA $850,000, Education Cities $85,000,  and Relay Graduate School $40,000.

The DPE movement is harming America. What the Amway clan has done to Detroit should be labeled a hate crime. It is treason. We must protect our right to freedom of conscious. Our public schools are a cornerstone of America’s great democratic experiment and the source of protection for liberty. Do not bow down to the lords of Mammon, fight their greed and dangerous religious agenda.

Standards Based Education Reform is Toxic

14 Feb

In 1983, lawyers, business titans and famous scientists ushered in the era of standards based reform with the infamous “A Nation at Risk.” This political polemic masquerading as a scholarly paper proclaimed a crisis in American education. It propelled us careening down a path of harm. Harm for children; harm for educators; harm for communities; harm for schools and harm for democracy.

During my first quarter at UCSD’s teacher education program, I was assigned many readings including Alfie Kohn’s The Schools Our Children Deserve. By 1999, the time of the books writing, Clinton’s Goals 2000 was in force and many states were already adopting high school exit exams and other standardized testing practices. Although not impressed by this theory of education improvement, Alfie was more focused on improving education practices in public schools.

He asked, “Is it possible that we are not really as well educated as we’d like to think? Might we have spent a good chunk of our childhoods doing stuff that was exactly as pointless as we suspected it was at the time?”

Kohn believes in progressive education and opposes behaviorism. He embraces the ideas of Dewey and Piaget; he is a constructivist. He railed against traditional classroom management, teacher centered instruction, homework and grading policies. One of his criticisms of education reform in 1999 was “The dominant philosophy of fixing schools consists of saying, in effect, that ‘what we’re doing is OK, we just need to do it harder, longer, stronger, louder, meaner, and we’ll have a better country.”

Less than five years latter Kohn would write:

“I just about fell off my desk chair the other day when I came across my own name in an essay by a conservative economist who specializes in educational issues. The reason for my astonishment is that I was described as being ‘dead set against any fundamental changes in the nation’s schools.’ Now having been accused with some regularity of arguing for too damn many fundamental changes in the nation’s schools, I found this new criticism more than a bit puzzling. But then I remembered that, during a TV interview a couple of years ago, another author from a different right-wing think tank had labeled me a ‘defender of the educational status quo.’”

Standards Based Education Reform is Based on Bad Theory

Professor Ellen Brantlin of Indiana University was an early critic of standards based education reform (SBR). Unlike the promoters of SBR, Brantlin was a scholar whose work was peer reviewed. In a 1997 paper published in Review of Education Research, she observed that ideology preserves “existing social structures and power relations” and that SBR was based on uncritical ideology that venerated the dominant culture and subjugated minority cultures.

In another article, “An Application of Gramsci’s ‘Who Benefits?’ to High-Stakes Testing”, Brantlin wrote:

“It seems reasonable to conclude that a number of parties reap rewards from high-stakes testing. Turning to Gramsci’s idea of hegemony (that powerful groups in society strive to maintain and strengthen their dominance by offering new evidence to justify it), it is plausible to assume that high-stakes tests facilitate the win/lose situations that justify hierarchical social relations and dominant groups’ material and status advantages.”

After the Common Core State Standards were released, Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institute conducted a study to ascertain the expected benefit from the new standards. He concluded, “Despite all the money and effort devoted to developing the Common Core State Standards—not to mention the simmering controversy over their adoption in several states—the study foresees little to no impact on student learning.”

He came to this conclusion in part by looking at the effect on testing results due to varying quality in state standards on the National Education Performance Assessments (NEAP).

Loveless also noted:

“Education leaders often talk about standards as if they are a system of weights and measures—the word “benchmarks” is used promiscuously as a synonym for standards. But the term is misleading by inferring that there is a real, known standard of measurement. Standards in education are best understood as aspirational, and like a strict diet or prudent plan to save money for the future, they represent good intentions that are not often realized.”

Loveless countered one of the more loudly proclaimed reasons for national curriculum guided by national standards:

“In the U.S., advocates of a national curriculum have for years pointed to nations at the top of TIMSS and PISA rankings and argued that because those countries have national curriculums, a national curriculum must be good. The argument is without merit. What the advocates neglect to observe is that countries at the bottom of the international rankings also have a national curriculum.”

Mathew DiCarlo writing for the Shanker Blog cited the work of Eric Hanushek, Jonah Rockoff and others to note that family background constitutes more than half the cause for scholastic achievement. He reported:

“But in the big picture, roughly 60 percent of achievement outcomes is explained by student and family background characteristics (most are unobserved, but likely pertain to income/poverty). Observable and unobservable schooling factors explain roughly 20 percent, most of this (10-15 percent) being teacher effects. The rest of the variation (about 20 percent) is unexplained (error).”

Professor Paul Thomas from Furman University shared his conclusion in an article published by Alternet “Corporations Are Behind the Common Core State Standards — And That’s Why They’ll Never Work.” He wrote,

“Noted earlier, the evidence from standards-based education has revealed that standards, testing, and accountability do not succeed in raising test scores. Related, the evidence on teaching shows that focusing on direct instruction and content acquisition is also ineffective. …. Additionally, we have ample evidence that standards and high-stakes tests do not create the democratic outcomes we seek in schools such as critical thinking, creativity, and equity of opportunity.”

Geometry Standards Posted

Teachers Are Forced to Post Standards and Teach to the Test – Photo by Ultican

Harming Students, Teachers, Schools and Communities

The real standards in a standards-based education system are the standards that get tested or as Center for Education Policy President and CEO Jack Jennings put it, “What gets tested gets taught.” A natural narrowing of curriculum occurs.

Professor Julian Vasquez Heilig of California State University Sacramento recently shared some corroboration of Jennings point on his blog “Cloaking Inequality.” In a piece he called “From Segregated, to Integrated, to Narrowed.” there is a documented account of a first-year chemistry teacher so focused on Texas testing that “The entire chemistry course was solely designed to drill students for science exit testing by utilizing multiple-choice worksheets.” The article included this outcome from Julian’s research:

“Vasquez Heilig (2011) studied majority-minority urban and rural schools in Texas and found that teachers (11 of 33) and principals (6 of 7) in his study detailed aspects of “teaching to the test” and the impact of exit testing on the narrowing of the curriculum. A high school administrator in the study acknowledged that schools are paying attention to constraints created by the current educational policy system: There’s no way around it, I mean you’d be a fool if you did not play that game, I guess you can call it … . You can easily end up being labeled unacceptable if you did not prepare the students to take the test … . Two weeks before the TAKS [Texas standardized tests] date we pull out the kids … . We let the teachers know you’re not going to see these kids for 4 days. For 4 days we do what we call the TAKS blitz.”

The National Research Council (NRC) is a part of the National Academies. It was founded in 1916 to study issues related to coordinating science and technology research for America’s possible involvement in World War I. The NRC conducted a nine-year study of the standards based education reforms mandated by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. Here are a few of its findings:

“Incentives will often lead people to find ways to increase measured performance that do not also improve the desired outcomes.”

“The evidence we have reviewed suggests that high school exit exam programs, as currently implemented in the United States, decrease the rate of high school graduation without increasing achievement.”

“To help explain why test-based incentives sometimes produce negative effects on achievement, researchers should collect data on changes in educational practice by the people who are affected by the incentives.”

Standards Based Education Reform Destroyed Schools in Poor and Minority Neighborhoods

In an article he called “Test Today, Privatize Tomorrow – Using Accountability to “Reform” Public Schools to Death” Alfie Kohn shared,

“As Lily Tomlin once remarked, ‘No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.’

“I try to imagine myself as a privatizer. How would I proceed? If my objective were to dismantle public schools, I would begin by trying to discredit them. I would probably refer to them as “government” schools, hoping to tap into a vein of libertarian resentment. I would never miss an opportunity to sneer at researchers and teacher educators as out-of-touch “educationists.” Recognizing that it’s politically unwise to attack teachers, I would do so obliquely, bashing the unions to which most of them belong. Most important, if I had the power, I would ratchet up the number and difficulty of standardized tests that students had to take, in order that I could then point to the predictably pitiful results. I would then defy my opponents to defend the schools that had produced students who did so poorly.”

Jessica Bacon an Education Professor from City University, New York and Professor Beth A. Ferri from the school of education Syracuse University studied the demise of Westvale, a K-5 urban elementary school in New York state. Their paper is called “The impact of standards-based reform: applying Brantlinger’s critique of ‘hierarchical ideologies’.”

It is a story that has repeated itself too often. Westvale served a population that does not test well. The demographics of the school: 95% free and reduced lunch, 40% limited English proficiency, and 20% students with disabilities. The racial makeup of the school was: 50% Hispanic or Latino, 35% Black or African-American, and 10% white.

Because Westvale elementary could not meet the testing targets set by the NCLB law, the state of New York categorized them as “Persistently Lowest Achieving” which meant the district had to select one of four remediation methods. The district chose the transformation model.

The paper reports, “Unfortunately, during this process, Westvale also ‘transformed’ from a school that had been moving towards a fully inclusive model, to one that reverted to a variety of segregated, tracked, and pullout classes.”

Today, many schools in communities that test poorly are being privatized as either charter schools or voucher schools.

In an Education Week article, “‘Defies Measurement’ Illustrates Failures of Test-Focused Policy,” David B. Cohen writes,

“In ‘Defies Measurement,’ teacher-turned-filmmaker Shannon Puckett gathers the recollections and reflections of twenty-three former students, parents, and teachers from Chipman Middle School in Alameda, California, and illustrates how a nurturing school community was gradually dismantled by the test-and-punish dynamics of education reform under No Child Left Behind. Puckett, who taught at Chipman and quit because of the changes following from NCLB, also contextualizes the eventual closure of the school, and the devaluation of what it stood for, in the broader context of education reform and accountability efforts nationwide.”

A school in which I had worked was closed because of the NCLB law. I wrote of about the “Unwarranted Demise of Mar Vista Middle School.” The piece began:

“In February, while attending a science teacher’s professional development at Mar Vista High School, I first heard the rumor that Mar Vista Middle School (MVM) was going to be closed, all of its staff dismissed and the school reopened as a charter school. Since 1961, this venerable institution has been a treasure in the poverty-stricken neighborhood situated one mile north of the world’s busiest border crossing (San Diego-Tijuana). At the March 11, 2013 board meeting (Sweetwater Union High School District) the rumor was confirmed, a restructuring plan for MVM was approved. Or as one person observed, ‘they legally stole an asset belonging to a poor community for their own purposes.’”

It turned out that the community successfully fought off the charter school conversion. The remedy became close the school and reopen it as a focus or theme school with a transformed staff. Fifty percent of the original staff was sent packing. The school is not much changed today because it is still serving the same community, but it is now called Mar Vista Academy and many lives were disrupted.

Some Last Words

Last September, the Labour Party in New Zealand captured control of the government. The news service Stuff reported, “Labour campaigned hard on scrapping National Standards in the lead-up to the September election on the basis they were neither ‘national or standard’.” Labour has rid the country of standards based education reform.

Last week brought a new initiative from the Labour government to rid the country of charter schools. Stuff quotes Education Minister Chris Hipkins,

“Both National Standards and charter schools were driven by ideology rather than evidence. Both were rejected by the vast majority of the education sector. The Government’s strong view is that there is no place for them in the New Zealand education system.”

There are twin lies supporting standards based education reform and the destruction of public education in the United States. The first lie promotes the illusion that public education in this country is failing. It never was failing nor is it failing now. The second lie is driven by market based ideology. It posits that privately-run charter schools are superior to “government schools.” A group of researchers in Massachusetts studied the results after 20 years of the 1993 state education law enactment. They reported:

“While some charter high schools with a large percentage of low-income students score high on MCAS [Massachusetts standardized tests], these schools rank much lower on the SATs. What’s more, research indicates many students from high-scoring charter schools do not fare well in college, as measured by six-year college completion rates.”

Hopefully, a political party in the United States will also realize that protecting public education is good politics. I don’t care what letter they use after their name – D, G, I or R – they will have my vote.

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?

 

A Horror Story by Steven Singer the Gadfly

23 Dec

Steven shares a hoary story that has become a national crisis. Unlike a Steven King novel, this book, Gadfly on the Wall, is not a fantasy. It is impossible to overstate the damage being done to America and its children by the greedy, the self-centered and the stupid. They are set on destroying free universal public education in America.

Billionaires be wary, Steven says he is ready to kick your sorry asses.

Many people were disheartened when Donald Trump became president and installed an evangelical who despises public schools as Secretary of Education. Her agenda seems to be ending public education and creating a system of government financed Christian schools. Here, I really love Steven’s attitude. He says,

“We lived through administrations that wanted to destroy us and actually knew how to do it! We can take Tiny Hands, the Bankruptcy King any day! This is a guy who couldn’t make a profit running casinos – a business where the house always wins! You expect us to cower in fear that he’s going to take away our schools. Son, we’ve fought better than you!”

I first met the author of The Gadfly on the Wall at Chicago’s Drake Hotel almost three years ago. Educators, parents and others were arriving for the National Public Education (NPE) conference. The Drake’s lobby waiting area is at the top of a short flight of stairs next to the room where hi-tea has been served since the 19th century. It was here that I met Karen Wolfe from LA, Larry Profit from Tennessee, Steven Singer from Pennsylvania and many others.

My Singer Collage

Steven Singer Collage by T. Ultican

That evening the tall Anthony Cody was at the top of the stairs greeting new arrivals; many of whom gathered in the elegantly appointed waiting area. It was a conducive atmosphere for my first conversation with a humble bespectacled somewhat chubby Steven. I had been reading Steven’s new blog and really liked it. Later, I made some notes about the evening’s encounters intending of write about it when time permitted. Steven beat me to it. In the morning our arrival scene was covered by a wonderful post in his “Gadfly on the Wall Blog.”

I have learned that Steven is disciplined, efficient and a very hard worker. He is emblematic of the teacher blogger. His opinions are sometimes hyperbolic but when he states a fact it is well sourced and the source is readily available. I have often used sources Steven provided when doing my own writing.

Unlike education journalism in commercial and non-profit media, teacher bloggers show more integrity because their peers in the profession demand it. Also, billionaires are not underwriting their blogs. Teachers are providing unvarnished truths about the attack on public education. The Gadfly on the Wall is a compilation of three years of blogs calling out the perpetrators of the attacks on public schools for their false narratives about failing public schools, their often-racist agendas, and their manipulation of data used to justify charter schools, testing and vouchers.

I met Steven again at NPE2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. He was the same humble likable guy but much busier. I had limited opportunity to talk with him, because he had become a central figure in the Badass Teachers (BATs) Association and he was in demand.

Teachers and their relationships with students are critical. Phony “personalized learning” sold by technology companies and “no excuses” charter schools run by amateur educators are not good enough. Heart and commitment are required. In the article called “Killer in My Classroom,” Steven tells the story of an 8th grader, Tyrell:

“Almost always calm and in control. He was well above the others academically. When one of the others lost his cool, Tyrell would help talk them down.”

Tyrell was moved out of Singer’s remedial classroom and back to regular classes. In his last conversation with Tyrell, Steven tried to convince him that he had better options than “making a stack on the street.”

Steven still wonders if he could have made a difference for Tyrell if given more time, but he will never know. He also has no way of knowing how many children he may have saved. The Tyrell saga still haunts Singer. He shares,

“And Tyrell? About a year later, I read about him in the newspaper.

“Police think it was a drug related hit. Tyrell was in the backseat. He put his gun to the driver’s head and pulled the trigger.

“Bam.

“No more future for either of them.

“Except on restless nights when Tyrell’s face keeps coming back to me.”

School Choice

The Gadfly on the Wall is organized into five sections: Introduction; Racism and Prejudice; School Choice; Testing; and Teaching. I particularly recommend the article from School Choice, “Top 10 Reasons School Choice is No Choice.” Reason number 10 identifies the root problem. Singer does not mince his words:

“10) School choice is not supported by grass roots movement. It is supported by billionaires.

“The proponents of school choice will tell you that they are only doing the will of the people. This is what parents want, they say. Baloney. … They want to steal the public system and replace it with a private one. They don’t care about your child. They just want to steal the hundreds of billions of tax dollars we pay to educate our children. This is not philanthropy. It is a business transaction meant to screw you and your child out of your rights.”

The Brown versus the Board of education decision spurred “choice.” Singer describes the uncanny resemblance charter schools have to the mid-1950’s scheme hatched by Georgia’s then Governor, Herman Talmage. He said, “We can maintain separate schools regardless of the U.S. Supreme Court by reverting to a private system, subsidizing the child rather than the political subdivision.”

The Madrasa schools of the middle east are often cited as fomenting terrorism by indoctrinating students. In his book, Frames of Mind, Howard Gardner also criticized these schools for employing – almost exclusively – rote memorization, which he said circumscribed creativity.

The modern voucher school movement is making tax money available to Christian oriented school systems that are using a similar pedagogical approach to the Madrasa schools.

This December, Rebecca Klein wrote an article in the Huffington Post, “Voucher Schools Championed By Betsy DeVos Can Teach Whatever They Want. Turns Out They Teach Lies.” She reported, “In Indiana, about 4,240 students received over $16 million in scholarships to attend schools that use the Abeka or Bob Jones curriculum, according to 2016-2017 figures from the Indiana Department of Education.”

Singer writing about the same issue, “These books include the following gobsmackers:” He lists seven gobsmakers. Here is number seven:

“7. Brown v. Board of Education is described as social activism by the Supreme Court: ‘While the end was a noble one – ending discrimination in schools – the means were troublesome … liberals were not willing to wait for a political solution.’

“Teacher’s Resource Guide to Current Events for Christian Schools, 1998-1999 (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1998), p. 34”

Steven goes on to say of school choice,

“The bottom line is this – voters don’t want school choice. It does nothing to better children’s educations. It is a product of segregation and racism, and even in its modern guise it continues to foster segregation and racism.”

Testing

Singer makes the argument that when comparing test scores from the US to other countries we are “comparing apples to pears.” The December 12 Washington Post reported on the latest dismal international testing results in reading by US fourth graders. A few days later, Diane Ravitch posted an analysis of these scores by David Berliner. Score on the paper and pencil version of PIRLS 2016:

  • USA 549
  • Singapore 576
  • Hong Kong 569
  • Finland 566

Berliner looks at some demographic information and says “First, we can note that Asian Americans scored 591. That is, our Asians beat the hell out of Asian Asians!” Some more US data shared by Berliner:

  • White Kids (50% of our students) – 571
  • Upper Middle-Class Schools with 10% to 24 % Free and Reduced lunch – 592
  • Schools with 25% to 50% Free and Reduced Lunch – 566

Berliner draws the conclusion, “It’s our social and economic systems, not our schools, that cause lower scores than is desired by our nation.”

Singer asserts,

“By any fair measure, America’s public education system is simply stunning. But the media perpetuates the myth that we’re failing.”

The post called “Standardized Tests Have Always Been About Keeping People in Their Place” was an eye opener for me when I first read it. I have often referred to Singer’s sources showing eugenics is the genesis of standardized testing.

Carl Brigham was one of the original pseudo-scientists claiming that their intelligence tests proved that white people possessed superior intelligence to non-whites. Singer shared this gobsmaking information:

“Brigham created a civilian test of intelligence that could be used to sort and rank students …. He called it the Scholastic Aptitude Test or S.A.T.

“Yes, That SAT.”

Page after page, Steven’s book takes on the forces working to control curriculum, and teacher professional development. His points are powerful.

Racism and Prejudice

This section begins with the article “I Am Racist and (If You’re White) You Probably Are, Too.” Other than a short introductory piece, this is how the book begins. I think that is unfortunate.

I am a white guy who grew up in Idaho, one of the whitest places on the planet. I remember my Asian stepdaughter looking for another Asian face in a busy mall in Boise and it was some time before she saw one. I was seventeen before I talked to a black person, because I had never met one. However, my teenage heart was thrilled by Martin Luther King and his fight for justice.

Racist is a word and it has a dictionary definition. Miriam Webster says, racism is “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race” and Dictionary.com says a racist is “a person who believes in racism, the doctrine that one’s own racial group is superior or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others.”

I have heard the claim that minority peoples in America cannot be racist because they lack the financial and political power to oppress the oppressors. However, the word racist does not mean oppressor and to use the term for that meaning invites miscommunication. Racism is a sensitive subject and if miscommunication alienates people, they will not apprehend your message.

I am convinced that Steven’s central point is correct, but the implication of the opening article is if you are white; you are a racist. That cannot be true. Racism is a human problem akin to tribalism and is a worldwide plague for which white people hold no dominion.

The rhetoric about failed public schools normally refers to schools in minority communities. Based on years of ingrained racial prejudice and at best benign neglect, schools for “those people’s children” were not properly funded.

For example, a parent from New Orleans told me about sitting in middle school classrooms with 55 students and no air conditioning. Plus, the fan could only be run 10-minutes each hour. She said that students would watch the clock like a hawk for their 10-minutes. So, when charter schools came to New Orleans, many black parents were enthusiastic about someone finally promising to spend money on schools in their neighborhoods.

In this section, Steven makes many important points. He writes, “If you are not careful, being a public school teacher can be an act of colonization.” For the past more than a decade, I taught in a high school dominated by Mexicans. I was often the only white guy in class. As my experience grew, I became more and more cognizant of how important it was that instead of implementing my culture, I assimilated and venerated their culture.

I was particularly moved by Singer’s treatment of educating refugees. He noted,

“Some may shudder or sneer at the prospect of giving shelter to people in need, that is the reality in our public schools. In the lives of many, many children we provide the only stability, the only safety, the only love they get all day.”

He concluded the article on refugees:

“So if we’re considering letting in more refugees, don’t worry about me. Send them all my way. I’ll take all you’ve got. That’s what public schools do.”

I have tried to give a flavor of this wonderful book along with some of my own views. The bottom line is that Gadfly on the Wall is entertaining, informative and provocative. Thank you, Steven.