Archives for category: Accountability

A reader sent this link to a speech about Eva Moskowitz’s charter schools, delivered at the Manhattan Institute, which is New York’s premier conservative think tank. The speaker is named Charles Upton Sahm. I googled him and could not find any information about him, other than a piece in the Daily Beast defending the Common Core.


Sahm here defends the Success Academy schools against their critics. He describes them as idyllic. The children are happy and highly motivated. The teachers are well-trained, enthusiastic, and cheerful about their work. The curriculum is rich with literature, history, constructivist math, and projects. The attrition rate is no different from city public schools. Despite published reports, the teacher turnover is very low because they are so happy. The charters not only take a fair share of students with disabilities and ELLs, but many of them leave that status because SA remedies their needs. He admits that the schools don’t take the most disabled children.


He makes it seem as though Eva should be chancellor of the public schools, so every school could be equally rich in learning and joy, and of course, the millions that the hedge fund managers give to her.


One new fact that I had been searching for: He acknowledges that in the first two eighth grade graduating classes not a single student was able to pass the admissions test for entry to one of the city’s highly selective high schools. Now, this is puzzling. If these students are so well educated in math and science and literature, starting in the earliest grades, if they knock the socks off the state tests, why are they not acing the test for schools like Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, Townsend Harris, Brooklyn Tech, Bard, and a few others? These schools have small numbers of black and Hispanic students, and the general assumption is they were ill-prepared. But why are Eva’s graduates unable to pass this test? If you are well educated, if you have mastered the tested subjects, you should be prepared for any test, not just the one you prepared for.



It is a puzzlement.

John Thompson reviews here the report by the Network for Public Education on 15 years of Gates’ experiments on the lives of other people’s children and teachers.


“During the last fifteen years, we educators have each endured corporate school reform in our own way. It has not been fun. Sometimes competition-driven, data-driven micromanaging has been downright frightening. It has sometimes looked like our profession, our unions, and public education values were on the verge of being destroyed by market-driven, test-driven reform. The Network for Public Education (NPE) has just done us a great service in connecting the dots, and showing how many of the mandates we have endured are different verses of the Gates Foundation hymnal, and how they created the same discord.
“The NPE’s feature report, “Around the States with Bill Gates,” begins with the aptly titled “Gates Funding Elevates Teacher Voices that Sing Their Tune” by Anthony Cody. It ends with Carol Burris’s post mortem on the Gates’s “costly and ineffective adventure” with the Hillsborough, Florida teacher evaluation system. In between, ten contributors describe the Gates follies that have occurred in their postage stamp of the education world.
“In 2012, Anthony Cody engaged in a five-part exchange with representatives of the Gates Foundation. Cody presented a thorough, well-researched, review of the scientific evidence ignored by the foundation. The Gates participants largely repeated their same old talking points. Shockingly, the Gates debaters closed the series with a temper tantrum.


“Perhaps, they saw the debate as a high-stakes confrontation and they were embarrassed by the extent of their defeat. Or, maybe the foundation didn’t expect a mere teacher to assemble and concisely present such an overwhelming case against its policies.
“Back when Cody touched a nerve with the Gates Foundation, it was already clear that its ill-conceived teacher evaluation gamble would be extremely risky, but it was possible to believe that the foundation could learn how to listen to practitioners. That hope was shattered as $23 million of Gates grants were made to elevate “teacher voices.”


“Unfortunately, their scripted voices were elevated in order to counter ours.
“As the foundation explains, when Gates creates new organizations or funds existing ones that align with its clearly defined agenda, they “‘develop proposals that align with our strategic priorities and the organization’s focus and capabilities.'” For instance, Cody notes, “‘Teach Plus has received $17 million in Gates grants, and has worked to train teacher leaders, who then show up to testify before public hearings in support of the elimination of tenure, or the use of test scores for teacher evaluations.”
“Later, Carol Burris concludes with a review of the Hillsborough failure. Previously, there had been a close working relationship between district officials and the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association. Moreover, the national AFT has long been committed to rigorous teacher evaluations (through peer review) and professional development (through National Board Certification.) It was working collaboratively with Gates and Hillsborough.
“The rank-in-file teachers pushed backed at the Gates methods, however, complaining about the negative effects of merit pay and evaluation by test scores on their teaching. The president of the union local, who had once enthusiastically embraced the early Gates efforts, “told the School Board that the system she helped put into place is considered by teachers to be ‘demeaning and unfair’ and that teacher voice and input has decreased.” After Hillsborough spent half of its $300+ million in reserves in order to pay for the costly failure, and with another $50 million in cost overruns expected, the district pulled the plug on the Gates experiment.
“It was not just teachers who were ignored in Florida. Parent activist Colleen Wood, and other local community groups, were invited to join the United Way’s Committee for Empowering Effective Educators. But, the grant “prescribed exactly how many teachers, non-profits, and businesspeople were to be on the committee.” Wood quickly realized that the purpose of the process was to “rubber stamp” the Gates’s preferences.
“The Hillsborough debacle was consistent with what was witnessed by Denver teacher Aaron Lowenkron, who concludes that the Denver version of the Gates model “is mechanistic, punitive, and opaque.


“Essentially, it has become a tool of the administration to generate teacher churn and keep our union weak.”
“The Hillsborough and Denver setbacks are also consistent with my summary of the Tulsa experience where the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association says that the district and the union had a good relationship until Tulsa “became indebted to groups who pushed for charter schools, tying tests to teacher evaluations and other so-called ‘reforms’ that do not improve public schools or provide a true picture of a teacher’s worth and ability.” After becoming the 6th largest recipient of Gates funding, in 2015, Tulsa had to scramble to fill 499 of its 3,000 teaching positions, which is up from the normative turnover of about 300
“Similarly, Newark student, Tanaisa Brown, explains that due to Gates-style reforms, “Teachers are forced to teach to a test without proper resources, and are being evaluated by scores that hardly take into consideration multiple other factors that affect students’ ability to learn such as poverty and unique learning types.” Moreover, students are “pushed out of their very own school buildings and have to wonder if they will even have a school to attend for the upcoming school year.”


“The NPE also gives today’s recipients of Gates funding a historical perspective. As Mike Klonsky recalls, when Gates came to Chicago in 2001, its mission was “small schools.” When educators and small-schools activists asked whether they could be on the board that would administer the grants, they were told, “That would be like allowing the workers to run the factory.” Also at the beginning of the Gates efforts, Curt Dudley-Marling witnessed the funding of organizations such as National Council for Teacher Quality (NCTQ). Dudley-Marling explains how the NCTQ illustrates Gates’s “antipathy toward traditional teacher education.”


“”He saw the truth in Diane Ravitch’s explanation that it was founded “with the explicit purpose of harassing institutions of teacher education.”
“The NPE’s Bill Mathis and former TFA teacher, Gary Rubenstein, further remind us that it was not always clear that corporate reform policies would be pushed in such a ham-handed manner. The late AFT President Al Shanker advocated for charter schools as a place for innovation, not as a mechanism for charter management systems to assist in the mass closures of schools. Before 2005 or so, Rubenstein did not see TFA as morphing into “a massive public relations campaign whose main accomplishment was fueling its own growth and power.” Since then, TFA has allowed its fund raising message to be “weaponized by uninformed, but rich, meddlers like the Gates Foundation.”



“Bill Gates famously said of educators, “They have to give us this opportunity for experimentation.” Gates and his foundation (which largely staffed the leadership of Arne Duncan’s USDOE) did not wait for the results of preliminary experiments regarding their hunches about teacher quality before they were codified into law in almost all of the nation’s states. When after-the-fact research discovered that their teacher evaluation experiments would cost about 2% of school budgets, Leonie Haimson reminds us, Gates made a snap judgment that class size should be increased to pay for it. Since then, he has “continued to fund unconvincing studies attempting to prove that class size reduction is not cost effective; … Singlehandedly, he has financed an entire industry in anti-class size screeds from shoddy think tanks.”
Haimson also recounts the failure of InBloom which “was designed to help achieve Bill Gates’s vision of education: to mechanize instruction by plugging every child into a common curriculum, standards and tests, delivered by computers, with software that can data-mine their responses and through machine-driven algorithms, deliver ‘customized’ lessons and adaptive learning.” Despite “the demise of inBloom,” Haimson notes, “the Gates Foundation has not given up their attempt to supplant real personalized learning with learning through software and machines.”
“And that bring us to Susan DuFresne’s personal account of the impact of Gates policies on teachers in Washington. An informal poll determined that 16 of her 18 fellow K-2 teachers have considered quitting. She describes how Gates’s data-driven pedagogy “stack-rank(s) children like his Microsoft employees.” She concludes that, “These reforms have stripped humanity from what was once a whole-child system. Schools are now more segregated, more punitive, often joyless test-prep factories designed to sort, rank, and cull human beings for Gates’ profit.”
“The teacher in me would like to stress one of DuFresne’s points that may not be obvious outside the classroom. She protests, “The first two months of school is now 1:1 testing vs building relationships and establishing routines.”
“There is no time when the genuine teacher voice is more important than when kicking off the school year. That is the time when we must be fully devoted to leading a class worthy of our students’ dignity.


“We can’t serve two masters. We can’t fully commit to the building of trusting and loving relationships, and to engaging instruction, while subordinating ourselves and our students to the metrics loved by Gates. Teaching requires authenticity and it’s hard to tell your kids that you place their welfare above all – except when you have to obey the billionaire’s mandates. We can’t challenge our kids to fully and honestly embrace learning, while warning them that our quest for knowledge will be routinely interrupted by corporate micromanaging.
“It’s bad enough when high school teachers like I was are torn between two masters. I can only imagine the angst felt by a kindergarten teacher like DuFresne as she helps launch children on that first stage of schooling and the pursuit of a real education. Sadly, if we want to protect our ability to speak with our genuine teacher voice in class, we must raise it now to defeat the Gates mandates and it’s faux “teacher voices.”




Leonie Haimson is a fearless advocate for students, parents, and public schools. She runs a small but mighty organization called Class Size Matters (I am one of its six board members), she led the fight for student privacy that killed inBloom (the Gates’ data mining agency), and she is a board member of the Network for Public Education. None of these are paid positions. Passion beats profits.


In this post on the New York City parent blog, she takes a close look at a new report that lauds the Bloomberg policy of closing public schools as a “reform” strategy. The report was prepared by the Research Alliance at New York University, which was launched with the full cooperation of the by the New York City Department of Education during the Bloomberg years (Joel Klein was a member of its board when it started).


Haimson takes strong exception to the report’s central finding–that closing schools is good for students–and she cites a study conducted by the New School for Social Research that reached a different conclusion. (All links are in the post.)


Furthermore, she follows the money–who paid for the study: Gates and Ford, then Carnegie. Gates, of course, put many millions into the small schools strategy, and Carnegie employs the leader of the small schools strategy.


Haimson writes:


“The Research Alliance was founded with $3 million in Gates Foundation funds and is maintained with Carnegie Corporation funding, which help pay for this report. These two foundations promoted and helped subsidize the closing of large schools and their replacement with small schools; although the Gates Foundation has now renounced the efficacy of this policy. Michele Cahill, for many years the Vice President of the Carnegie Corporation, led this effort when she worked at DOE.


“The Research Alliance has also been staffed with an abundance of former DOE employees from the Bloomberg era. In the acknowledgements, the author of this new study, Jim Kemple, effusively thanks one such individual, Saskia Levy Thompson:


[He wrote:] ‘The author is especially grateful for the innumerable discussions with Saskia Levy Thompson about the broader context of high school reform in New York City over the past decade. Saskia’s extraordinary insights were drawn from her more than 15 years of work with the City’s schools as a practitioner at the Urban Assembly, a Research Fellow at MDRC, a Deputy Chancellor at the Department of Education and Deputy Director for the Research Alliance.’


Levy Thompson was Executive Director of the Urban Assembly, which supplied many of the small schools that replaced the large schools, leading to better outcomes according to this report — though one of these schools, the Urban Assembly for Civic Engagement, is now on the Renewal list.


After she left Urban Assembly, Levy Thompson joined MDRC as a “Research Fellow,” despite the fact that her LinkedIn profile indicates no relevant academic background or research skills. At MRDC, she “helped lead a study on the effectiveness of NYC’s small high schools,” confirming the efficacy of some of the very schools that she helped start. Here is the first of the controversial MRDC studies she co-authored in 2010, funded by the Gates Foundation, that unsurprisingly found improved outcomes at the small schools. Here is my critique of the follow-up MRDC report.


“In 2010, Levy Thompson left MRDC to head the DOE Portfolio Planning office, tasked with creating more small schools and finding space for them within existing buildings, which required that the large schools contract or better yet, close.


“And where is she now? Starting Oct. 5, Saskia Levy Thompson now runs the Carnegie Corporation’s Program for “New Designs for Schools and Systems,” under LaVerne Evans Srinivasan, another former DOE Deputy Chancellor from the Bloomberg era Here is the press release from Carnegie’s President, Vartan Gregorian:


“‘We are delighted that Saskia, who has played an important role in reforming America’s largest school system, is now joining the outstanding leader of Carnegie Corporation’s Education Program, LaVerne Evans Srinivasan, in overseeing our many investments in U.S. urban education.'”


Concludes Haimson:


“How cozy! In this way, a revolving door ensures that the very same DOE officials who helped close these schools continue to control the narrative, enabling them to fund — and even staff — the organizations that produce the reports that retroactively justify and help them perpetuate their policies.”



Denis Smith used to work for the Ohio Department of Education, where he oversaw the charter schools. Now that he has retired, he can speak freely.


In this post, he reflects on the recall of faulty cars and airbags. And he wonders, what if faulty charters could be recalled?


The post is priceless for the number of links to industry malfeasance.


He includes a long list of charter industry failures, suggesting that embezzlement and cooking the books is not a one-off phenomenon, but a systemic failure.



Here are some examples of problems in that other, non-automotive, non-manufacturing industry:


A record 17 industry locations in one city – Columbus – closed in just one year.
One of the industry’s treasurers embezzled nearly $500,000 from several locations, earning a two-year prison sentence.
An executive in the industry, operating under a phony consulting contract, also embezzled about a half-million dollars, while employee salaries had to be cut in an economy move.
In Cleveland, five industry executives were charged with stealing nearly $2 million in a scheme that saw the creation of five shell companies to receive public funds. Even the board chairman, who owned the building in which the industry operated, was part of the fraud that was detailed in a 32-count indictment.
Three industry treasurers were singled out several years ago for their responsibility with more than $1 million in “questionable spending,” according to audit findings.

When Arne Duncan was made Secretary of Education, he brought in a group of advisors, largely from the Gates Foundation and the Broad Foundation, to help him design what eventually became the Race to the Top, which was funded by Congress with $5 billion in discretionary money, to reform American education. Duncan asked Joanne Weiss to take charge of Race to the Top.


At the time, Joanne Weiss was CEO of NewSchools Venture Fund, a California-based organization dedicated to spurring for-profit entrepreneurs and investing in charter schools, both start-ups and chains. Her previous experience was in educational technology. I can’t find any evidence that she ever worked in a school. She was an entrepreneur. She and her advisers came to the conclusion that the biggest problem in American education was its extreme decentralization (local control). They decided that if there were a national system of standards and assessments, then the businesses making textbooks, technology, and everything else would have a national market and the quality of their products would be far better. It was a rational decision for someone from the business world. She wrote on the blog of the Harvard Business Review, a brief essay that should be required reading for anyone trying to understand the philosophy behind the education policies of the Obama administration:


Technological innovation in education need not stay forever young. And one important change in the market for education technology is likely to accelerate its maturation markedly within the next several years. For the first time, 42 states and the District of Columbia have adopted rigorous common standards, and 44 states are working together in two consortia to create a new generation of assessments that will genuinely assess college and career-readiness.


The development of common standards and shared assessments radically alters the market for innovation in curriculum development, professional development, and formative assessments. Previously, these markets operated on a state-by-state basis, and often on a district-by-district basis. But the adoption of common standards and shared assessments means that education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale.


In this new market, it will make sense for teachers in different regions to share curriculum materials and formative assessments. It will make sense for researchers to mine data to learn which materials and teaching strategies are effective for which students – and then feed that information back to students, teachers, and parents.


If we can match highly-effective educators with great entrepreneurs and if we can direct smart capital toward these projects, the market for technological innovation might just spurt from infancy into adolescence. That maturation would finally bring millions of America’s students the much-touted yet much-delayed benefits of the technology revolution in education.


The reason to standardize education across the nation is to create an attractive business climate for entrepreneurs. National standards and tests will encourage them to develop products for this new national market.


This is certainly the first time in American education that the U.S. Department of Education took on the role of creating a national market for entrepreneurs. This was the Obama administration’s idea of “reform.”


It was a risky bet. No effort was made to pilot the Common Core standards, to find out how they would really work in real classrooms with real students and real teachers. The rush to implementation created a backlash. Weiss was correct in assuming that every textbook publisher would revised their texts and online programs to align with the Common Core or claim to have done so. But, some states have dropped the Common Core. Some are reviewing them with the intention of tailoring them to the needs of their states. About half the states that agreed to join one of the two testing consortia have withdrawn, either because of political controversy or because of online testing.


The effort to establish a unified national system, for the benefit of entrepreneurs, was illegal, in my view. The federal law says very clearly that no officer of the federal government may seek to influence, direct, or control curriculum or instruction. Arne Duncan likes to say that he stayed far away from curriculum and instruction. That may explain why he insists that the Common Core is “only” standards, not a curriculum. Of course, he has been a vocal advocate for Common Core, and of course, states were not eligible for any of the Race to the Top funding unless they adopted “college-and-career standards” (aka Common Core). But, please, it is “only standards,” not curriculum. Note that the U.S. Department of Education, as part of its grand plan to re-arrange American education into a standardized national system, funded two testing consortia with $360 million. Is it possible to say with a straight face that the U.S. Department of Education is making no effort to “influence, direct or control” curriculum and instruction when it funds the tests and advocates for a common set of standards? Does anyone believe that tests have no immediate impact on curriculum and instruction?


What lessons are to be drawn from the rocky experience of the Common Core? First, those in charge of the U.S. Department of Education during the Obama administration did not understand the meaning of federalism and the limits of the federal role; second, programs speedily devised and imposed by bribery tend not to last; third, haste makes waste; fourth, if new programs are devised without the engagement of experienced educators, they are unlikely to meet the needs of practitioners or the classroom. Last, the federal government should not substitute its best ideas for those who know more than they do at the state and local level. Coercion just doesn’t work very well in a democratic society.

The Network for Public Education has created an interactive graphic and a narrative that describe Bill Gates’ experimentation on our nation’s children over the past year. It is a must-see!

The extent of Gates’ meddling, says Carol Burris, is breathtaking; the results are not.


Burris and Anthony Cody write:


In his October 7 speech as he ruminated on how his foundation shaped educational policy and practice for the past fifteen years, Bill Gates spoke of the importance of what he called “high impact” strategies. His speech contained only one acknowledgement of error on his and Melinda’s part – and it was an error of the most innocent sort. He said they had been “naïve” in the way in which they rolled out the Common Core. Apparently they did not anticipate that democracy might get in the way of their plans.


For Bill Gates this has all been a grand experiment, one that he believes he is entitled to conduct on our children, our teachers and our schools. It is astounding that a man, who has no qualifications to guide our nation’s educational system has been allowed, by virtue of his fortune, to meddle in it as he has.


Although he spoke of the importance of continuous learning, (even admitting that the Gates Foundation still had a great deal to learn), Bill Gates did not show any signs of veering from the checkered record of their past 15 years of pushing the United States to adopt his vision of K12 education reform.


We at the Network for Public Education, however, will not let Mr. Gates, his wife or his Foundation off the hook. And so we bring you this special report on the grand experiment of Bill Gates. The breadth and scope of meddling is breathtaking. The evidence of success is not.



Rick Ayers, a professor of teacher education at the University of San Francisco, reviews the controversy over EdTPA, the Pearson-owned assessment tool for future teachers. In the past, educational professionals decided whether teachers were prepared for their job. Now, in 35 states, teachers must take the Pearson EdTPA to win certification.

He writes:

The Education Teacher Performance Assessment (edTPA) is the new set of evaluations of teacher candidates that is spreading across the country. Packaged as government-mandated test that assures the quality of teaching, it in fact colonizes the curriculum of teacher education programs and narrows the focus on teaching as pre-determined and top down delivery of lessons.

If you ask advocates about edTPA, they’ll tell you it’s a teacher performance assessment developed through a partnership between Stanford University’s Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity (SCALE) and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE). They describe it as being designed “by the profession, for the profession” and “transformative for prospective teachers because [it] requires candidates to actually demonstrate the knowledge and skills required to help all students learn in real classrooms.” And policy makers are listening: as of November 2015, 647 educator preparation programs in 35 states are using edTPA, and it’s required for teacher licensure in 4 states.

Critics, however, tell a radically different story. In articles published in an increasing number of academic journals, blogs, and trade magazines, they question the validity of the assessment, its ideological stance, and its function as yet another tool of privatized, neoliberal reform. Barbara Madeloni, now president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, was an early resistor. After the New York Times published a 2012 article about her students’ refusal to participate in an edTPA pilot, Madeloni lost her job at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Later, she, with Julie Gorlewski of SUNY New Paltz, published a series of critiques under headlines like “Wrong Answer to the Wrong Question” that describe edTPA as reductive and poorly aligned with the goals of social justice education….

Many scholars and activists are especially concerned about the role of Pearson Education, who is the exclusive administrator of edTPA and charges $300 per candidate per submission. $75 of this goes back to a “calibrated scorer”–a teacher or teacher educator who, with just 19-23 hours of computer-based training by Pearson was magically transformed from unqualified to evaluate their own teacher candidates to a national expert in evidence-based assessment. The other $225, presumably, goes to Pearson, SCALE and AACTE, who are surely celebrating their resounding success: 18,463 candidates were required to take edTPA in 2014. At $300 each, that’s $5,538,900. It is true that Pearson offers some vouchers to offset the cost for candidates. But in 2014, there were a whopping 600 vouchers available for the entire state of New York.

I have learned from a high-level official in New York that EdTPA has caused numerous problems. The future teachers are supposed to submit videos that show them teaching but parents are reluctant to give permission to film their children. The pass rates of African-American and Hispanic candidates is disproportionately low.

To many observers, both inside and outside the teacher education profession, EdTPA seems to be just one more piece of the “reform” effort to break the teaching profession and make it easier to turn teaching into a scripted performance.

If anyone wants to defend EdTPA, go for it. I’m all ears.

FairTest writes that the past year was amazing for opponents of high-stakes testing for students and teachers.


Testing Reform Victories 2015: Growing Grassroots Movement Rolls Back Testing Overkill
for further information:

Lisa Guisbond (617) 959-2371

Dr. Monty Neill (617) 477-9792

or Bob Schaeffer (239) 395-6773







Pressure from parents, students, teachers, school officials and community leaders began turning the tide against standardized exam overuse and misuse during the 2014-2015 school year, according to a new report released today. “Testing Reform Victories 2015: Growing Grassroots Movement Rolls Back Testing Overkill” shows that many states reduced testing mandates, eliminated score-based consequences, and implemented better assessments. The National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), a leader of the U.S. assessment reform movement, released the study.


Lisa Guisbond, the report’s author, explained, “Public pressure has forced policy makers to respond to the many harms resulting from the fixation on high-stakes exams. Even President Obama now concedes that testing has gone too far. Opinion polls show a sharp shift against overreliance on test-and-punish policies in favor of assessments based on multiple measures.”


Among the concrete assessment reform victories documented in the new FairTest report:


– Policy-makers repealed California’s graduation test. Six other states recently overturned similar requirements, reversing a trend toward exit exams. California, Georgia, South Carolina and Arizona also granted diplomas retroactively to students denied them by test scores.


– Florida, Oklahoma, New York and North Carolina suspended or revised their test-based grade promotion policies. New Mexico legislators blocked their governor’s attempt to impose one.


– Several other states, including Texas, Minnesota, Virginia, Colorado and Maryland rolled back testing mandates. So did many districts, led by Lee County, Florida.


– Opting out surged to record levels in New York, New Jersey, Washington, Colorado, Illinois and elsewhere. The national total approached 500,000.


– Polls show that large numbers of Americans agree that there is too much standardized testing and that it should not be used for high-stakes purposes.


– Three dozen colleges and universities eliminated or reduced admissions test requirements. The record test-optional growth means that more than 850 schools now offer such policies.


– Promising efforts to develop alternative systems of assessment and accountability are under way in California, New Hampshire and New York. All deemphasize standardized tests while incorporating multiple measures of school performance.


Ms. Guisbond concluded, “The movement’s growth and accomplishments are tremendously encouraging. But it’s far too early to declare victory and go home. Activists will use lessons learned from last year’s successes to expand and strengthen the testing resistance movement and ensure that policy makers go beyond lip service to implement meaningful assessment reforms.”

Bruce Dixon of the Black Agenda Report writes a scathing commentary on Arne Duncan and John King. 


Unlike his underqualified predecessor, John King is highly qualified to nail down the gains of educational privatizers. For the last ten months, King has been Arne Duncan’s deputy, and before that he headed the New York State Department of Education. Like Duncan, he’s never taught in or administered a public school in his life. King started out as a charter school teacher and administrator, and eventually headed a chain of charter schools with exceptionally onerous disciplinary policies.

As commissioner of NY State Department of Education King was instrumental in forcing Common Core, a standard curriculum developed by non-educators and corporate consultants from the Gates Foundation, the testing industry and others, upon parents and schools while his own children attended a local Montessori school, which of course did not administer standardized testing. In New York King distinguished himself as a thin-skinned, tone-deaf bully, insisting in the face of widespread public opposition that cutting recreation, music, literature and real teaching in favor of Common Core’s “teach to the test” and other “run-the-school-like-a-business” practices were good for children and good for education.

There are two pieces of good news here. The first is that the $4 billion in stimulus funds the administration had under Duncan to coerce states and school districts into compliance is gone, and provisions of the successor to No Child Left Behind, which of course will institutionalize as much of the privatization regime as possible, are not yet finalized. The second is that like Arne Duncan, John King is no charmer, no persuader, and no salesman. He’s an arrogant autocrat in a highly public, highly visible position, committed to enforcing a set of massively unpopular policies. There’s a serious political opportunity here to galvanize and make visible a movement of national resistance to the juggernaut of school privatization. The Obama administration is well aware of this, and is transparently seeking to buy time with empty declarations of intent to reduce emphasis on standardized testing.


Chris Lubienski is a Professor of Educational Policy, Organization, and Leadership at the University of Illinois. He was invited to testify before a U.S. Senate committee on the subject of vouchers. The committee was considering the reauthorization of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (aka vouchers). Please be aware that vouchers have never been endorsed by voters; wherever they exist, they were enacted by legislatures. Voters in Florida decisively rejected vouchers in 2012, as did voters in Utah in 2007.

Lubienski’s written testimony is here.

The video of the hearings is long. If you want to watch, it is here.

Lubienski reviews voucher research in an impartial manner. Overall, he finds that voucher schools do not produce higher test scores.

If you choose not to watch the hearings or read his testimony, here are his conclusions:

The academic impacts of vouchers on student achievement are generally lacking, and sporadic and inconsistent, at best. Even focusing only on the studies highlighted by the pro-voucher Friedman Foundation, most found no effect for the clear majority of overall and subgroup analyses. However, for both achievement and attainment, the problem is that findings of impact that do exist reflect no underlying causal logic. In the exceptional cases where researchers report an impact, they appear to have an effect for one group in one grade in one subject, but not with that same group in a different subject, or year, or in a different city — or even if examined in a different study, even by the same researchers. Indeed, the equity premise for vouchers — that private schools offer students a better educational opportunity — may be misguided, since nationally representative evidence indicates that private schools are no more effective (and often less so) than public schools 14(Braun, Jenkins, & Grigg, 2006; Lubienski & Lubienski, 2014; Reardon, Cheadle, & Robinson, 2009). So there are reasons for caution in hearing claims about the impact of vouchers. Said another way, there are better arguments for vouchers than their academic impacts.
At the same time, while we have evidence on the academic benefits (or lack thereof) of vouchers, policymakers and researchers may also need to attend to the question of potential social costs. Research points to concerns about social segregation from choice programs that may further hinder educational opportunity for disadvantaged students, relative to their more advantaged peers, even though disadvantaged students are often the intended beneficiaries of voucher policies. As the OECD noted:

“School competition can involve costs and benefits that may not be equally distributed across students. Some of the intended benefits of competition… are not necessarily related to student achievement, and must be weighed against the possible cost in equity and social inclusion. (Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, 2014)”

Weighing the potential costs and benefits of education policies is a contentious and difficult exercise, with serious implications for individuals, schools, families, and communities. While there is an obvious appeal to interventions that may appear to be a panacea for the deep-seated problems facing urban schools, the best evidence in this case indicates that this approach is not particularly effective, and should be treated by policy makers with a reasonable degree of caution.


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