Archives for category: Administrators, superintendents

Highland Park, New Jersey, bought out its controversial superintendent Timothy Capone for $112,766 (less than a year’s salary), although he had another three years to go on his contract.

Jersey Jazzman had previously written about Capone and identified him as a “reformer” connected to Chris Cerf who was anti-union and focused solely on test scores. Among his first actions was to fire nine employees, who happened to include the president and vice-president of the local teachers’ union.

He managed to alienate parent groups as well, and school board meetings tended to be standing-room-only, raucous affairs.

The lesson here, it would seem, is that controversial “reforms” can succeed where there is mayoral control or districts controlled by the state. But in a typical district with an elected school board, superintendents must practice the arts of persuasion and collaboration with parents, teachers, and the community. Not easy, but that’s leadership.

State Senator John C. Sheehan was one of many people in Rhode Island who wondered what State Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist wrote in the dissertation she completed in June 2012. It was about creating a new teacher evaluation system for the state, and Gist would not allow anyone to read it.

Sheehan eventually got a copy of the embargoed dissertation, and he understood why she wanted to keep it under wraps. The theory she wrote about was leadership based on respect and collaboration, on trust and “buy-in,”but her practice was heavy-handed, confrontational, and top-down.

Sheehan recalled the mass firing of staff at Central Falls High School, then the mass firing of teachers in Providence.

Sheehan wrote:

“As soon as students underperformed on tests, teachers were blamed for the failure, resulting in unprecedented low morale. The Gist reaction was on national display when all of the teachers at Central Falls High School were fired. The individual merits of the teachers did not matter nor did it matter if students had applied themselves or were disadvantaged. Under Gist’s leadership philosophy (corporate reform), all teachers were held strictly accountable for low school test scores. Educators were again broadsided by the mass firing of all of the teachers in Providence, a year later. What hurt the commissioner’s credibility in Providence was her defense of wholesale firings, calling them a “good and just cause” [ignoring RIDE’s own case law which would have prohibited firing all teachers].”

“Good leaders lead by example. If Gist were to do so, she would hold herself to the same standard and consequence for performance failure as she does teachers. In the new evaluation, teachers must develop Student Learning Objectives to be used to demonstrate their students are continually making progress based on standardized tests or other measures of student performance. If teachers do not meet this standard, they can be deemed “ineffective”. If teachers do not improve after a year, they face termination as had teachers in Central Falls Ironically, the Department of Education, at Gist’s request, has set 33 targets for statewide student performance. The bulk of them are related to closing the achievement gap while a few involve graduation rates and how students do after high school. In 2012, the state reached just 1 out of those 33 targets. In other years, under Gist’s leadership, RIDE did not fair much better. Yet, the commissioner is not held to account for these dismal results.”

He added:

“Gist failed to get the level of “buy-in” necessary to create a fair evaluation system that would garner the support of a majority of teachers. That failure was not due to teachers’ fear of change or being held accountable, but to the Commissioner’s own poor leadership ability. Befittingly, 82% of public school teachers polled had a negative view of Gist’s job performance! All things considered, I can appreciate why she wanted to keep her dissertation out of the public eye as long as possible.”

Jon Lender of the Hartford Courant describes in detail how the embattled candidate for New London superintendent, Terrence Carter, was the very model of a modern school reformer. He graduated from New Leaders for New Schools, founded by Obama and Clinton advisor Jonathan Schnur.

Terrence Carter had deep roots in the world of “reform.”

“To fully understand the Carter episode, it helps to look at him in the context of a national battle over non-traditional school-reform efforts. The high praise that he received from influential voices in recent years sounds almost ironic now – as New London’s school board has its law firm conducting an investigation that could send him packing.

“Terrence Carter represents a new breed of principals who entered the profession from business through an excellent principal training program called New Leaders for New Schools. The program, which operates in Chicago and five other cities and is about to add two more, imposes higher expectations on principals,” the Chicago Tribune said in an editorial Feb. 4, 2007.

“Carter then was principal of Clara Barton Elementary School, in a poor Chicago neighborhood, after receiving training at New Leaders, a national non-profit school-reform group co-founded by Jonathan Schnur, a former Clinton White House staffer and Obama campaign adviser.”

With his credentials, Carter advanced rapidly in Arne Duncan’s Chicago:

“The Obama administration has been receptive to school-reform efforts by groups like New Leaders. Obama appointed his fellow Illinois native, Arne Duncan, as secretary of education after Duncan ran the Chicago schools, cooperating with school reformers and engineering oft-controversial school “turnaround” projects where “new breed” principals were inserted.

“Chicago was an early battleground in what’s become a national controversy between traditional educators and teacher unions, on one side, and, reform activists such as New Leaders and charter school operators on the other. That fight is playing out in Connecticut, where Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy has appointed a charter school co-founder, Stefan Pryor, as a state education commissioner who supports turnaround efforts in low-performing schools.

“Skeptics about such efforts in Connecticut see more in the Carter controversy than just one candidate whose credentials and character have been questioned.

“This is how the pro-privatization, big-philanthropy-funded networks and organizations tend to work. They pass their own people along and up, greasing rails and plumping resumes as they go. And the main criteria for ‘success’ often seems not to be real leadership characteristics, so much as willingness to be a good soldier when it comes to pushing forward a particular reform agenda,” said Lauren Anderson, an assistant professor of education at Connecticut College in New London.”

Carter’s standing in the school-reform movement was such that in 2009 he accompanied Schnur to a presentation at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. The topic was New Leaders’ partnership with Chicago in the “turnaround” of several low-performing inner-city schools.

“New leaders like Terry” have made “dramatic gains” in student performance, Schnur said in a presentation that helped win an “Innovations in American Government” award from the Kennedy School’s Ash Center for the New Leaders-Chicago schools initiative.

“Terry for example — he didn’t spend 15 years as an assistant principal, but he was a chief learning officer at a Fortune 500 company working with and managing adults, and a former teacher, and brought that blend of skills to bear,” Schnur said in remarks still watchable on YouTube at http://youtu.be/sHjWtePruMU.”

Carter had the strong support of Connecticut State Commissioner Stefan Pryor.

“Anderson spoke against Carter’s hiring at a July 24 meeting in New London when the school board put off a scheduled vote to approve a contract for Carter — and instead instructed its legal counsel, Shipman & Goodwin in Hartford, to look into newspaper disclosures including the fact that Carter had used the titles Dr. and Ph.D. for years without holding a degree from an accredited university.

“Other newspaper revelations: he filed for bankruptcy twice; his application essay included long passages identical with other educators’ writings on the Internet; a national research organization released a copy of a bio that it says Carter submitted in 2011 with the claim that he had a Ph.D. from Stanford University, which Stanford says he does not; and he got a Ph.D. in 1996 from “Lexington University” — which doesn’t have a campus and had a website offering degrees for several hundred dollars with the motto “Order Now, Graduate Today!”

“Carter met in closed session with the school board on July 24, and said afterward that he did nothing wrong, never misrepresented his credentials to anyone now or in the past, and still wanted the job.”

“Carter had been selected by the school board in June, with Pryor’s endorsement, to begin running the troubled New London school system starting Aug. 1. At the time, he was the toast of New London and, in comments quoted by the Day newspaper, he invoked the name of Duncan, Obama’s national education secretary.

“The story noted that the Chicago-based Academy for Urban School Leadership — the education-reform group he’d been working for since leaving his principal’s job in 2010 — had been praised by Duncan and Rahm Emanuel, the former Obama chief of staff who now is mayor of Chicago. Carter said in the story that back in Chicago a decade ago, Duncan, then running the Chicago schools, had handpicked him from the New Leaders training program for school administrators.

“He saw my presentation and said, ‘I need this guy in Chicago,'” Carter said in the Day article.

“Duncan’s deputy press secretary declined a Courant request Thursday an interview with the national school chief or a statement about Carter.”

The Carter story is not about one man, but about the bipartisan movement to disregard credentials, to close schools, to hire ill-prepared TFA, and to favor privately managed schools over community public schools. To favor democratically elected school boards over management by hedge fund millionaires.

The Day reports that the language in the cover letter submitted by Terrence Carter to be superintendent in New London contained language identical to a cover letter written by another job applicant in Michigan in 2011. When will this charade end? If he fabricated his résumé and plagiarized his job application and cover letter, what more evidence is needed?

Here is an excerpt from The Day:

“New London — The cover letter Terrence P. Carter submitted with his application to be the city’s next superintendent bears a resemblance to a cover letter submitted by a different candidate seeking a Michigan superintendent job in 2011.
Carter’s cover letter, submitted on March 11 along with his application and resume, shares a similar structure and, in some cases, identical sentences.

“I bring an unbridled passion for educating children and adults, a track record of launching and directing critical educational programs, and exceptional leadership credentials,” Carter wrote in his letter. “If you are looking for a dynamic educational leader who has continually succeeded in the classroom, in academic programs, in the central office, and in corporate America, then my credentials will be of great value to you, your students, and your community.”

A cover letter submitted in 2011 by Frederick Charles Clarke, then a candidate for the superintendent job in Rochester, Mich., contains a similar passage.

“…I bring to your academic institution an unbridled passion for educating America’s youth, a track record of launching and directing critical educational programs, and exceptional leadership credentials,” Clarke wrote. “If you are looking for a dynamic educational leader who has continually succeeded in the classroom, in academic programs, and in the central office, perhaps my credentials will be of great value to you, your students and your community.”

The Day, a Connecticut publication, reports more problems for Terrence Carter, applicant for the superintendency at New London, who used the title “Dr.” and “Ph.D.” without having earned the title.

The Day reports that sections of Carter’s job application were identical to other publications. That is known as plagiarism and is unacceptable in school or higher education.

“New London – At least 10 paragraphs in the two-page essay Terrence P. Carter submitted with his application for the city’s superintendent of schools job contain material apparently copied from other sources without attribution, including academic journals, news articles and websites.

“In some cases, entire paragraphs of Carter’s March application are exactly the same as writings that previously appeared in other publications.”

Bertis Downs is a native of Georgia and a member of the board of the Network for Public Education.

He writes:

This is the best electoral news in a long time– Georgia Democrat Valarie Wilson won the runoff for state school superintendent, and it wasn’t even close: http://bit.ly/Us7qNi I am proud to be one of her supporters.

And on the Republican side a longtime educator, Richard Woods, won in a squeaker– he had strong support from the Tea Party for his opposition to Common Core, which many on the right consider a federal intrusion into what should be local decisions.

Valarie Wilson’s decisive win on the Democratic side is significant for Georgia, and it fits into a developing narrative that Money (doesn’t always) Mean Power, at least in the intersection of politics and schools. It’s great to add Georgia to the list of places where big, out of state, corporate reformist money did not beat a genuine pro-schools candidate who will fight for strong and effective public schools for all– Seattle, Los Angeles, Bridgeport, Newark, Indiana, over and over this pattern is being repeated. Diane Ravitch’s blog and the Network for Public Education are key ways to get the good word out. I guess people like Bloomberg, Huizenga, Rhee, DeVos, Broad, et al have millions to spend (ahem “invest”), but all those $6,300 (+/-) check-writers from California and New York and elsewhere must be feeling a little ripped off this morning. Campaign disclosures, especially when analyzed and broken down on Diane’s blog, are a beautiful thing in a democracy! http://bit.ly/UoWuQC. And I guess, in a way, money does in fact talk– despite Valarie’s opponent’s decision to play down her involvement in the so-called choice movement, the extent of her out of state support, and the fear that she would indeed “dance with who brung her” if elected, likely helped propel Valarie, who raised virtually all her support here in Georgia.

And on the Republican side, and let’s be realistic– Rs generally beat Ds lately in GA– Richard Woods is a solid candidate who believes in public education and is not in deep with the corporate interests looking to privatize our schools. Either way, whatever the outcome in November, Georgia will not have someone really bad running our schools, and that is a relief. I am confident that Georgia’s next superintendent — whether Wilson or Woods — will address and improve the shortcomings of our schools while celebrating and replicating what works in advancing teaching and learning in our classrooms, supporting teachers and helping them improve, and restoring funding cuts that have reduced our school year and increased our class sizes. And if we are really lucky, the next Superintendent will courageously start the long walk back from the absurd amount of standardized testing being forced on our children and our schools, and back to sane and effective assessment and evaluations that help Georgia attract and retain quality teachers. As has been said, a teacher’s working conditions are our childrens’ learning conditions. I look forward to a superintendent who knows this. (And it would of course be really great if that Superintendent could serve under a Governor who shares their view of public schools– see, e.g. https://carterforgovernor.com/issues/)

The results in Georgia send a powerful message that what the people want, Republicans and Democrats alike, is pretty straightforward: good public schools where they are proud to send their children. And the selection of the fall candidates, Richard Woods and especially Valarie Wilson, is a clear rejection of the status quo of the false cures and nice-sounding quick fixes offered by the well-capitalized marketers of “school reform.”

Bertis Downs

Jon Lender of the Hartford Courant, who has broken story after story about sham practices in the state’s charter industry, describes the process of trying to verify the “doctorate” of Terrence Carter, the nominee for superintendent of the New London schools. The search firm hired by the school board seems to have conducted its research via Google.

Despite the damaging stories about his educational résumé, Carter is not abandoning his quest for the job:

“On Thursday, hours before the board of education’s evening meeting, the state Department of Education asked Carter to withdraw from consideration following a week of damaging disclosures. But Carter showed up at the meeting, met with the board in closed session, and emerged saying he’d done nothing wrong. “I’m not stepping down” he said, adding that he’s still “interested in the job.” He wouldn’t answer any questions about his past Ph.D. claims.”

Just when you think things can’t get worse in Connecticut, another “reform” scandal pops up.

Civil rights attorney Wendy Lecker writes here about the clear pattern of hiring unqualified people to run impoverished districts. Their way of operating: cut services, bring in Teach for America, install unproven programs.

She writes:

“It is becoming painfully clear that in Connecticut, the refrain that education reform is “all about the children,” is a sad joke. To Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor and his allies, children are merely collateral damage.

“Recently, there was the scandal involving Hartford’s Milner school, in which the children were used as pawns in a scheme to expand the charter empire of now-disgraced Jumoke/FUSE CEO Michael Sharpe. Pryor never bothered to discover that Sharpe is a former felon and falsified his academic credentials. Instead, while Milner was floundering under Sharpe, Pryor, a longtime Sharpe supporter, handed him two additional schools. The fate of public school children was clearly the last thing on Pryor’s mind. Currently, the FBI is investigating Pryor’s, Sharpe’s and Jumoke/FUSE’s connections.”

The latest drama is playing out in impoverished New London, where the state is pushing to hire a superintendent with a phony doctorate.

Connecticut is one of the nation’s highest performing states. It didn’t get that way by turning children over to inexperienced, unqualified teachers and superintendents. The achievement gap is a direct result of the opportunity gap. It won’t be closed by experimenting on children but by reducing the poverty that creates obstacles for children.

Valarie Wilson won the runoff election to be the Democratic candidate for Georgia’s State Superintendent of Education.

The Republican primary was too close to call.

Valarie Wilson was endorsed by the Network for Public Education as a true friend of public schools. Her opponent, Alisha Thomas Morgan, was supported by the hedge fund group Democrats for Education Reform, Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst, and the pro-voucher American Federation for Children.

Tomorrow is an important run-off to select the Democratic candidate for state superintendent of Georgia.

The Network for Public Education has endorsed Valarie Wilson, who has worked as a member and president of the local school board in Decatur and has served as president of the Georgia School Boards Association.

Fortunately one of the members of the board of directors of the Network is Bertis Downs, a native of Georgia. He wrote this column to explain why he will vote for Valarie Wilson tomorrow.

Bertis Downs, who cares deeply about the children of Georgia, writes:

“A few years ago, I decided to give up politics, since politicians often disappoint, and many politicians seem to have only one issue once they get elected—staying in office. So all the time and effort and money I used to give to political campaigns, I decided to devote to the single most important issue I care about—improving and effective public schools. If we don’t get that part right—educating our children—then what kind of society can we really expect in the future? Well, it did not take me long to realize that if you care about education—the teaching and learning that goes on in the classroom—then you’d better pay attention to politics. I began trying to connect the dots and to figure out the often massive disconnect between policies passed by politicians in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., and the ways our kids’ schools operate.”

“I discovered that what passes as “education reform” is often just a combination of policies that diminish and weaken public schools; boost heavily-marketed “alternatives” like charter schools and voucher programs; revolve around standardized testing with high stakes attached; and then misuse the results of those tests. These policies are taking their toll on morale among our best and most effective teachers, and the people pushing these policies rarely have a dog in the fight. It doesn’t really affect them personally—it’s just politics to them.

“I support groups and individuals, including politicians, who have the same goal I do: good schools for all kids. That sounds simple, but it’s tough to achieve. Schools are complex organisms and have a hard job, given the realities many of their students face when they leave the school grounds.

“Schools cannot be improved with smoke and mirrors and bumper-sticker solutions. “School choice” surely sounds good, and the word “charter” seems to have almost magical connotations to some people. But a good school—public, private or hybrid—shares a few things in common: great teachers who are dedicated to their calling of teaching, who are supported by and learn from each other, who teach in reasonably-sized classrooms and are in a school community that is sufficiently-resourced with adequate facilities and technology, with a rich and varied curriculum, including arts and physical education, and are part of an involved and engaged community of parents and others who support the mission of the school.

“While I recognize that we are not there yet, I think it is important to discern what level of government—local, state or national—is holding us back and making our public schools’ job more difficult every day.

“In my view, the test-driven reforms that started under President George W. Bush but have accelerated under President Barack Obama are most responsible for the current state of play. (Of all the issues, why do the Democrats and Republicans have to pick this one to agree on, and get it so wrong?)”

He concludes:

“As for the runoff for state school superintendent, I strongly support Valarie Wilson, a Decatur parent and former school board member who also has statewide experience as chairwoman of the Georgia School Boards Association. She brings an engaged parent’s perspective, believes in the mission of our public schools and supports the teachers and students who teach and learn there every day. She will work to protect and advance our schools, and she does not subscribe to the false cures and easy-sounding fixes offered by the reform crowd, who have placed their bets elsewhere.

“Wilson knows what it takes and will do everything within her power to make all Georgia schools effective for every child. She will be a fierce advocate for our teachers at a time when they need it the most. And she will do so as a parent, not as a politician taking the careerist’s view.

“I look forward to a time when our state leaders are as focused as our local teachers and administrators on the promise of public education: Each child prepared for life. Wilson would be a great start on that path, and depending on how the “top of the ticket” does in November, she just might have a chance to win the general election. “

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