Archives for category: Closing schools

Stan Karp was a teacher in New Jersey for many years. He now works as an advocate for public education. In this brilliant article, he describes two districts in New Jersey that have been under assault by corporate reformers. One is Newark, the other is Montclair. One is high-poverty and mostly African-American; the other is an affluent and diverse suburb. To different degrees, both have experienced the same failed “reforms”:

 

“Corporate education reform” is used here as shorthand for a set of proposals driving education policy at the state and federal level. These include:

 
Increased test-based evaluation of students, teachers, and schools of education.

 
Elimination or weakening of tenure and seniority rights.

 
An end to pay for experience or advanced degrees.

 
The privatization of school services, including reduced pay and benefits for the aides, custodians, and cafeteria workers who often form an important layer of community-based staff in schools.

 
Closing public schools and replacing them with privately run charters.

 
Replacing elected local school boards with various forms of mayoral or state takeover.

 
Vouchers and tax credit subsidies for private school tuition.

 
Implementation of a new generation of computer-based exams tied to the Common Core standards.

 
Typically, low-income districts like Newark, with majority populations of color, including many families who have been poorly served by the current system, have been the entry point for these policies. The rhetoric of civil rights and equity, once invoked to challenge segregation and institutional racism, is now being used to justify the radical dismantling of these districts.

 
Newark reached a turning point on this path in the fall of 2010, a high-water mark for the corporate reform movement: The pro-charter propaganda film Waiting for “Superman” had just been released and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was calling it a “Rosa Parks moment.” Oprah Winfrey ran a week of back-to-school specials highlighted by the appearance of Bill Gates and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who appeared with then-Newark Mayor Cory Booker and New Jersey’s newly elected Gov. Chris Christie.

 
Christie won election by campaigning against teacher unions, calling pre-K programs “babysitting,” and denouncing court-ordered funding levels for New Jersey’s urban districts as “obscene.” “We have to grab this system by the roots and yank it out and start over,” he said. Booker and Christie formed the kind of bipartisan political alliance that has been a defining characteristic of corporate ed reform. As reported by Dale Russakoff in the New Yorker: “Booker presented Christie with a confidential proposal titled ‘Newark Public Schools—A Reform Plan.’ . . . One of the goals was to ‘make Newark the charter school capital of the nation.’”

 

Christie agreed and Booker began pitching the plan to potential donors, including Zuckerberg.

 

So, as schools opened in September 2010, folks in Newark heard Zuckerberg, who had never set foot in the city, announce from a TV studio in Chicago that he was donating $100 million to support what Oprah described as a takeover of Newark Public Schools (NPS) by the “rock star mayor.” Community activists began referring to it as the second takeover.

 

Karp gives a history of the last 20 years in Newark, which was taken over by the state in 1995. Under court order, Newark Public Schools made significant progress. But after Chris Christie was elected governor, Newark became a hothouse for corporate reform.

 

Some of Newark’s highest profile charters are “no excuses” schools with authoritarian cultures and appalling attrition rates. Newark’s KIPP schools lose nearly 60 percent of African American boys between 5th and 12th grades, and Uncommon Schools lose about 75 percent. There are some Newark charters that provide high quality education for a fortunate few, but the overall impact on the district has been polarizing and inequitable, and has accelerated the district’s decline.
For many architects of corporate reform, that’s exactly the point. As Andy Smarick, a former deputy commissioner in Christie’s DOE now with the corporate think tank Bellwether, wrote: “The solution isn’t an improved traditional district; it’s an entirely different delivery system for public education: systems of chartered schools.”

 

Christie appointed Cami Anderson as superintendent of Newark, and her plans to dismantle public education are highly unpopular. She never attends board meetings; her office was occupied recently by a group of students. A new mayor, Ras Baraka, was elected running in opposition to Cami Anderson and state control. But despite her unpopularity, Christie reappointed her for another term and gave her a bonus. Other superintendents have a salary cap; Anderson has none and makes more than any other superintendent in the state.

 

Montclair, New Jersey, is a suburb that has long been desegregated. It has some unusual citizens, including Chris Cerf, the former state superintendent who now works for Joel Klein at Rupert Murdoch’s Amplify division, and Jonathan Alter, the national political journalist who is a cheerleader for corporate reform and had a starring role in “Waiting for ‘Superman,'” lauding accountability and charter schools. Montclair, writes Karp, was a “takeover without a takeover.”

 

In the summer of 2012, as Cami Anderson was hollowing out Newark, Montclair hired a new superintendent. Penny MacCormack was new to the state, had never been a superintendent, and wasn’t known to many in Montclair. But those who track state education politics knew she had been a district official in Connecticut who was recruited by Cerf to be an assistant commissioner in Christie’s DOE. The department had received several grants from the Eli Broad Foundation and was staffed with multiple Broad “fellows.” MacCormack, Cerf, and Anderson all have Broad ties.
MacCormack was at the N.J. Department of Education for less than a year when she suddenly resurfaced as the new Montclair superintendent without any public vetting, a clear sign the board knew this was a controversial hire.
Her welcome reception began with a video about the origins of the magnet system in the struggle to integrate the town’s schools. Some honored town elders who had played key roles were in the audience. MacCormack awkwardly attempted to connect her vision to the compelling town history framed in the video. Despite the town’s commitment to equity, she said, wide “achievement gaps” remained, and addressing those gaps would be her No. 1 priority.
MacCormack didn’t pledge to restore the equity supports that had been eroded in recent years or challenge Christie’s budget cuts. Instead, she announced that the Common Core standards and tests, and the state’s new teacher evaluation mandates, would “level the playing field” and “raise expectations for all.” “And,” she said, “I will be using the data to hold educators accountable and make sure we get results.”
After she finished, a latecomer took the floor and told the audience how lucky Montclair was to have MacCormack come to town. It was Jon Schnur, the architect of the Race to the Top. He also lives in Montclair. We later learned that Schnur was MacCormack’s “mentor” in a certification program she enrolled in after being hired without the required credentials to be superintendent.
In Montclair, there was no formal state takeover and no contested school board elections. Instead, the long reach of corporate education reform had used influence peddling, backdoor connections, and a compliant appointed school board to install one of their own at the head of one of the state’s model districts.

 

Over the next few months, MacCormack’s plans took shape, drawing on a familiar playbook. There was major shuffling at central office; experienced staff were replaced by well-paid imports. Half the district’s principals were moved or replaced.
The new superintendent created a multiyear strategic plan: a 20-page list of bulleted goals, strategies, and benchmarks. One stood out. MacCormack wanted to implement “districtwide Common Core-aligned quarterly assessments in reading, writing, mathematics, social studies, and science” from kindergarten through 12th grade.” The proposal quickly became a dividing line.
Like the rest of the country, Montclair had felt the impact of increased testing. New Jersey used to test students once each in elementary, middle, and high school. But since 2002, NCLB mandated annual testing for every student in every grade from 3 to 8 and again in high school. State testing mandates increased again when New Jersey adopted the Common Core standards and tests. MacCormack’s “benchmark assessments” were an additional layer designed to produce data for her strategic plan.
The town pushed back. Some parents formed a group called Montclair Cares About Schools (MCAS) and posted an online petition asking the board to defer the quarterly tests. Five hundred parents signed in a few weeks. A similar petition initiated by students drew another 500 names. Dozens of speakers lined up at board meetings to urge the board to slow down and change direction. But, as the school year ended, the board that hired MacCormack unanimously endorsed her plan.
When schools opened in September, neither the tests nor the new curriculum they were supposed to assess were ready. Teachers were scrambling to make sense of a complicated new teacher evaluation rubric. Confusion reigned about how this rubric would combine with student test scores to produce numerical ratings for staff, with high-stakes consequences for tenure and salaries. Again, parents and teachers pleaded with the board to delay the new tests, to no avail.

 

McCormack has since moved on, leaving behind an $8 million budget gap and a divided citizenry; the communities under siege are beginning to work together to resist disruptive and chaotic “reforms.”

 

The school reform battles in Newark and Montclair are part of a national struggle over the direction of public education, and the outcome is still very much in doubt. But there are some encouraging signs that building pro-public education coalitions across urban, suburban, race, and class lines is possible.
In the midst of Newark’s mayoral campaign, MCAS [Montclair Cares About Schools] held a fundraiser in Montclair for Ras Baraka. At an overflowing house party, MCAS parents spoke about their efforts to realize a democratic vision of integrated schools and put support for public education back at the center of state and national policy. Baraka spoke passionately about how much it meant to children and parents in Newark to know they had allies beyond their neighborhoods.
Ties across district lines are growing. “Cares about Schools” groups have popped up in more than two dozen other districts. Save Our Schools, N.J., a statewide parents group, has grown to more than 20,000 supporters and built an advocacy network that’s done terrific work on school funding, charter accountability, privatization, and testing. The N.J. Education Association has initiated a campaign against the overuse of standardized testing that is crossing community and constituency lines more consciously than in the past.
Two recent events hint at the possibilities. On a cold January night, MCAS partnered with the Montclair Education Association to sponsor “an evening of song, poetry, comedy, music, and spoken word celebrating the joy of creative teaching and educators.” A crowd gathered in the performance space of a local bar to celebrate the diverse voices of Montclair’s public schools. During a break, an MCAS parent made an announcement: A series of “Undoing Racism” workshops would be held in late March. Participants would be drawn from both Newark and Montclair, with representation from educators and community. “Undoing racism,” she repeated. “Let’s have more of that. And it comes right at the end of the first round of [Common Core] testing, a perfect time to look at issues of race in education.”
A few days later, Ras Baraka became the first mayor of a major city to publicly endorse the right of parents to opt out of state tests. “While test data can be a useful part of accountability systems,” he declared, “the misuse and overuse of standardized tests has undermined the promise of equity and opportunity. . . . New Jersey needs an immediate moratorium on using standardized tests for high-stakes purposes, such as graduation, teacher evaluations, and restructuring schools. . . . I stand in solidarity with the opposition to this regime of standardized testing.”
The seeds of solidarity are starting to sprout.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The mayoral election in Chicago is tomorrow. What’s at stake: the future of public education in that city.

The Chicago Teachers Union predicts more school closings if Tahm is re-elected. A major campaign contributor said he should have closed 125 schools, not just 50. This donor, Ken Griffin, is a Republican who also has given to Scott Walker in Wisconsin.

PRESS RELEASE
IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Ronnie Reese
April 6, 2015 312-329-6235

School closings inevitable if Emanuel wins second term

If Rahm Emanuel is re-elected, more school closures could come before moratorium ends in 2018

CHICAGO—Rahm Emanuel’s refusal to seriously pursue any meaningful, progressive revenue solutions for Chicago Public Schools (CPS) funding needs will without question lead to further mass school closings in the city’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods if he wins re-election on April 7. As Emanuel’s economic policies prioritize the financial interests of billionaire campaign donors like Ken Griffin and other big business supporters, at the expense of public education in Chicago, the mayor is making a clear choice to drive the district into even further dire financial straits that he will use to justify additional school closings.

Griffin, one of the top contributors to Emanuel’s re-election campaign and the richest man in Illinois, has accused Chicago’s mayor of being “lackluster” for not closing 125 schools instead of 50, and recently reiterated to the New York Times that the number of closings, which disproportionately affected African American and Latino students and their families, “should’ve been 125.” Griffin also has claimed that the top 1 percent of income earners have too little influence in politics, which is seemingly why he has backed Emanuel with more than $1 million in campaign contributions. As Griffin’s influence on City Hall grows, future school closings are inevitable if Emanuel is re-elected.

“Rahm’s pledge not to close additional schools for five years, which he refused to put into writing or pass into law, will conveniently run out if he wins a second term,” said CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey. “In Ken Griffin, who is among the top donors to both Emanuel and his friend, Bruce Rauner, he has a billionaire puppet master for whom he’ll have to do a lot of dancing if he is fortunate enough to retain his office.”

In return for Griffin’s generosity, Emanuel has rejected holding the city’s most wealthy accountable for their growing untaxed income while he simultaneously fleeces working class families with regressive taxes. Emanuel also has committed millions of dollars in tax increment financing to one of Griffin’s hotel investments and remains silent on suggestions for a millionaire tax that nearly 2/3 of the state of Illinois voted to support.

In deference to his central contributors, Emanuel has refused to claw back losses from toxic swaps, capital appreciation bonds, TIFs and other forms of predatory finance that will cost the city $3 billion—money that would be better used in meeting pension obligations and expanding city services.

If Griffin himself were taxed at the individual income tax rate before it declined from 5 percent to 3.75 percent on January 1, 2015, his $1.2 billion annual income would have garnered $60 million. That amount alone would have saved 30 neighborhood public schools from closing, according to the Chicago Board of Education’s own calculations. If this same formula was applied to members of the Pritzker family, Grosvenor Capital Management CEO Michael Sacks and other financial titans financing Emanuel’s campaign, there would be substantially more resources available to the district to offset its projected $1 billion shortfall.

“If the mayor had the courage to take on the banks’ toxic swaps for market manipulation, unfair dealing and misinformation—along the lines of what the Department of Justice has done federally—we could recoup nearly $1.2 billion for our schools and the city, eradicating the current deficit,” Sharkey said. “Instead, CPS will face more mass school closings, more layoffs, more losses of retirement security for educators and more students in our already overcrowded classrooms.”

If the district closed the additional 75 schools that Griffin has called for, Emanuel’s handpicked Board of Education would have to layoff approximately 9,000 teachers, which would result in class sizes of 50 or more in most schools. Emanuel has threatened such actions in the past. If Chicago had a mayor who chose the city’s residents, their schools and communities over the interests of wealthy benefactors, the pain and suffering that Emanuel has caused can be avoided in the future.

Emanuel is the bankers’ candidate, for it is the bankers who are most enthusiastic about his willingness to defend their interests. His refusal to hold them accountable is an indication that future budget cuts and school closures are a certainty.

###

Peter Greene lives in Pennsylvania, where the previous governor, Tom Corbett, and the Republican-controlled Legislature did their best to encourage corporate reform and to destroy public education. Corbett welcomed for-profit cyber-charters and every other kind of charter, and he slashed the budget for public education. The result can be seen starkly in Philadelphia, where many public schools have been replaced by charters, and the remaining public schools are stripped of programs, resources, and services.

 

Here he explains that it is not just urban districts like Philadelphia and York that are being cut down by “reformers,” but not-very-wealthy rural districts like the one he teaches in. People blame their local school boards, but even the most fiscally responsible local boards are falling victim to decisions made by the legislature.

 

He writes:

 

The closing of schools is rampant in my part of PA, and we aren’t alone. We’re a region of not-very-wealthy rural districts, but not-very-wealthy urban districts like Philly and York have also cut schools like a machete in a bamboo forest.

 

It is not a matter of declining student population, and it is not a matter of districts falling on tough times. It’s a widespread financial crisis, and it’s manufactured.

 

How to manufacture a statewide financial crisis.

 

Cut state funding. This puts the making-up-the-difference pressure on local taxpayers.

 

Take a ton of money away from public schools and give it to charters.

 

Create a huge pension funding crisis. This is its own kind of challenge, but the quick explanation is this– pre-2008, invest in really awesome stuff, and when that all tanks and districts suddenly have huge payments to make up, tell the districts they can just wait till later and hope for magic financial fairies to fix it. It is now later, there are no fairies, and a small district with an $18 million budget is looking at pension payments that go up $500K every year.

 

Oh, and pass a law that says districts can’t raise taxes more than a smidge in any given year….

 

The end result?

 

School districts are looking down the barrel of million-plus-dollar deficits. The two deficits for which I have now been a power point audience can both be entirely explained by the formula:

 

Charter Payments + Pension Payments + Other Tiny Obscure Cuts = District Deficit

 

In other words, a district that had a fiscally responsible year last year, that didn’t do anything crazy or odd or unusual and just left everything alone when planning for this year– that district is still facing huge deficits in their current budgeting cycle, unrelated to any choices that they made in managing their own local district.

 

Funny, last time I looked, it was states that have the primary responsibility in their constitutions for maintaining a “thorough and efficiency” (or some variation thereof) system of public education. But the legislators are passing mandates that shift the burden to local districts and sitting by while public schools are closed.

 

Is this part of a plan to privatize public education? What do you think?

 

 

 

 

Sorry to bombard you with emails about the budget deal but this is a big deal. Cuomo didn’t get everything he wanted–such as more charters (he may get that later) and tax credits for private and religious schools (aka vouchers), but he seems to have won some victories in his battle to grind teachers’ faces into the ground. Anyone who knows the research on teacher evaluation knows that Cuomo’s plan for “independent evaluators” (people from outside the school who spend a few minutes observing the teachers) and tying teacher evaluations to test scores has no basis in research or experience. It is not clear what the teacher evaluation plan will look like, because the budget deal is leaving it to the bureaucrats at the State Education Department to iron out the details.

 

This is what was just reported:

 

Assembly Democrats balked at a number of the education reform measures Cuomo had pushed.

 

But as the details emerge of the agreement from a senior administration official, Cuomo does appear to have won the inclusion of some of the education proposals, albeit with changes.

 

The agreement includes a new teacher evaluation criteria that will include both state-based tests as well as principal and independent observation. School districts can opt for a second test for teacher evaluations developed by the state Department of Education, according to an administration official.

 

However, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Sunday night said the deal would vest more power in the Department of Education to set the evaluation criteria.

 

Fully fleshed out details on the evaluation criteria are expected to be included in budget bills.

 

Teacher evaluation criteria would be tied to tenure: Three out of four years a teacher must be given a rating of at least “effective” in order to receive tenure.

 

On the inverse, teachers that are deemed to be “ineffective” for two years in a row could be removed within 90 days. Teachers rated ineffective for three years in a row could be removed within 30 days.

 

School districts must implement the new evaluation criteria by November and doing so is linked to state education aid, the administration official said.

 

An administration official insisted on Sunday evening said the new evaluation criteria would need to be included in new contracts between teachers and districts, but would not be subject to collective bargaining with local units.

 

“It’s in the law,” the official said.

 

The budget includes a plan for school receivership. Schools deemed to be struggling or “failing” have a school district put forward a turn around plan to the state Department of Education, which could either approve the plan or have the school taken over by an independent monitor.

 

A city official briefed on the plan pointed some local control components for the city education chancellor.

 

The first batch of schools up for review would have to be deemed “failing” over the last 10 years, with the second batch deemed “failing” for the last three years.

 

The fight over education policy in the budget was one of the more pitched in recent years, as Cuomo tangled with the highly organized teachers unions both in the city and statewide.

 

Both the New York State United Teachers and the United Federation of Teachers accused Cuomo of strengthening charters at the expense of public education and as way of rewarding the deep-pocketed campaign contributors who also support charter networks.

 

Governor Cuomo, who did not attend public schools and whose children did not attend public schools, who has never been a teacher and who knows nothing about how to evaluate teachers, is wreaking his vengeance on the state teachers’ union for failing to endorse his re-election. It does not reflect well our society when elected officials make decisions about how to run schools, how to reform schools, how to evaluate teachers and principals, and when to close schools. There are not qualified to do so.

 

 

In a surprise result, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel failed to receive 50% plus one of the vote and was forced into a runoff with Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.

Emanuel will go down in history as the mayor who closed 50 public schools in a single day, most enrolling children of color. This action is without precedent in U.S. history.

“With 95.7% of precincts reporting, Emanuel had 45.3% of the vote and Garcia had 33.9%.

“Emanuel, who raised more than his four rivals combined, buried his challengers in $7 million in campaign advertising in his unsuccessful attempt to avoid the runoff.

“He even turned to President Obama, who Emanuel served as White House chief of staff from 2009 to 2010, as his chief surrogate….

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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks to the press after leaving a restaurant where more
CHICAGO — Rahm Emanuel was dealt a tough political blow on Tuesday, after he was forced into a runoff election to hold onto his seat as mayor of the Windy City.

Emanuel, who raised about $15 million for the campaign, finished first in the five candidate field, but fell far short of garnering the 50% plus one vote he needed to win outright and avoid a runoff election. He will now face the second place finisher, Cook County Commissioner, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, on April 7.
With 95.7% of precincts reporting, Emanuel had 45.3% of the vote and Garcia had 33.9%.
“We came a long way, and we have a little bit further to go,” Emanuel said.
Chicago ceased holding partisan primaries in 1995, when it switched to the current election format. It marks the first time that the city will hold a runoff mayoral election.
Emanuel, who raised more than his four rivals combined, buried his challengers in $7 million in campaign advertising in his unsuccessful attempt to avoid the runoff.
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He even turned to President Obama, who Emanuel served as White House chief of staff from 2009 to 2010, as his chief surrogate….

“Emanuel’s latest television advertisement featured a clip of Obama wrapping Emanuel in a hug at the Pullman event and a sound bite of the president touting the mayor as “making sure that every Chicagoan in every neighborhood gets the fair shot at success that they deserve.”

“But the president’s influence wasn’t able to help Emanuel close the deal.
“We need to upgrade our communities by building more and better schools,” said Tracy McGrady, a college student and part-time construction worker. “Instead, Rahm is closing them.”

“In Chicago’s Bronzville neighborhood, a predominantly African-American neighborhood, Emanuel supporters appeared to be a rare breed.”

This statement was released on Mike Klonsky’s Blog.

Chicago Area Researchers Slam Rahm’s Failed Ed Policies

From Chicagoland Researchers and Advocates for Transformative Education (CReATE)

February 20, 2015

Contacts:
Isabel Nunez, CReATE Coordinator, (312) 421-7819
Mike Klonsky, (312) 420-1335
Brian Schultz, (773) 442-5327
David Stovall, (312) 413-5014

LOCAL EDUCATION RESEARCHERS SLAM MAYOR EMANUEL’S FAILED POLICIES

On the eve of the Chicago mayoral election, Chicagoland Researchers and Advocates for Transformative Education (CReATE), a network of 150 education researchers from universities in the Chicago area, is releasing Chicago School Reform: Myths, Realities, and New Visions (2015).

In response to Mayor Emanuel’s claims of major success for his education policy initiatives, CReATE calls into question major parts of Chicago school reform under Mayor Emanuel’s leadership. CReATE reviews how reforms of the past four years and earlier have impacted Chicago children, families and school communities.

In response to recent policy initiatives, CReATE proposes a series of research supported alternatives to mayoral appointed school boards, school closings, the ever-expanding chartering and privatizing of public schools, as well as the curriculum and teacher evaluation designs and increased high stakes testing being imposed by Common Core State Standards and the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top policies.

The position statement also includes contact information for university-based education researchers who can provide more detailed commentary on specific areas of education policy.

CReATE’s Statement on Chicago School Reform: Myths, Realities, and New Visions is available online at http://www.createchicago.org/

Michael Klonsky here gives us an update on the Chicago mayoral election, which is a week away.

 

Will Rahm get away with his unprecedented closure of 50 public schools to make way for privately managed charter schools?

 

Klonsky quotes an astute observation by Stephanie Simon of Politico.com:

 

If Rahm can get re-elected after fighting the teachers’ union, after closing 50 schools in mostly black communities, by expanding privately managed charter schools, by attacking tenure, and tying teachers’ evaluations to test scores, it will embolden other Democratic mayors to act like Republicans. (Last point was mine, not hers!)

Kiersten Marek writes in Inside Philanthropy that the Gates Foundation seems to be ramping up its interest in the connection between housing and education. The foundation has made a few small investments in this interaction, and it appears to have realized that homelessness and housing instability has a negative impact on educational achievement. One straw in the wind: “The new CEO of the foundation, Susan Desmond-Hellman, recently wrote on the Impatient Optimists blog that a “stable place to call home” is one of the “few things that every child needs to lead a healthy, productive life.” (Along with good schools and a strong community.)…”

 

While the Gates Foundation has long noted the obvious linkages between housing, family stability, and student achievement, it hasn’t done much grantmaking to specifically address that nexus. But that’s changing, and [Gates’ program officer Kollin] Min says the foundation is advancing “partnerships between housing authorities and school districts, to look at the connection between housing stability and educational outcomes.”

 

Min cited McCarver Elementary School in Tacoma, which was recently profiled by the Urban Institute, as an example of the kind of collaboration that the Gates Foundation has created. By enrolling in the McCarver special program, kids and families commit to staying with the same school and receive rental assistance as well as other forms of support. The idea, of course, is that less moving around will allow kids to improve academically—and not only the kids who would otherwise be shuttling around, but also their classmates, who studies show are negatively affected by the disruption of students coming and going.

 

Min says the foundation has seen “positive results” from the partnership between the Tacoma School District and the Tacoma Housing Authority. But he also says this work is still early in the game. “We are just kind of taking baby steps with thinking about these issues.” On the other hand, as Min describes it, all this is hardly rocket science: “We’ve come to the firm point of view that for many children challenged by housing and mobility issues, it really is important to try to bring systems together, and that’s really the only way that we can improve outcomes.”

 

Perhaps the Gates Foundation could become a strong voice taking a stand against school closings, which are needlessly disruptive in the lives of children, families, and communities. The recognition that children are negatively affected by disruption is an important insight. We can hope that these are lessons learned that will change future practice.

 

 

 

 

Gary Rubinstein—high school
math teacher, author, blogger, reformer of TFA–has been writing letters to reformers he knows–and sometimes getting a reply. Now he is writing letters to reformers he doesn’t know and inevitably he must write to Bill Gates.

Gary is civil, polite, and candid. He patiently explains to Bill that the “reforms” he has underwritten have failed. He likens the malfunctions of “reform” to buggy software. He writes as one computer programmer to another.

“Creating a bug-free software package is not something that happens by accident. You don’t just hire a bunch of programmers and have them, unsupervised, write five million lines of spaghetti code, then without even testing it, hit ‘compile’ and ship it out to customers. No. You start with a sound plan and stable architecture. The specifications must be clear and easy to test to see if they are met. Throughout the development lifecycle, components of the product are created and tested. When these components are assembled, there is another round of robust testing to make sure that the components interface with each other properly. Good software design would include a team of experts that will surely, from time to time, disagree about the best way to make the program work. This sort of disagreement is useful since if everybody on the team always agrees, there will be an issue when one person is wrong about something, therefore everyone is wrong about something. What good is a team of ‘Yes Men’? A productive team includes people who disagree. Excluding people who are known computer experts because they are skeptical of the direction the team is taking is not going to result in a robust program. Only after the program passes all the quality review tests and the program is declared to be reasonably bug free can the product be deployed to the customers….

“I spent several years as a debugger in Colorado working on the one-time giant of desktop publishing Quark XPress. I’m hoping that my abilities as a veteran teacher and also as a one time professional debugger will make you willing to listen to me when I say this current version of education reform is in need of some serious debugging. Whatever the original specifications were, maybe to raise test scores in this country?, it isn’t accomplishing that. What it is accomplishing, unfortunately, is making education worse.

“I know that it has already been deployed. But just as buggy computer software can now be updated easily by downloading patches, the ed reform bulldozer you’ve created can also be fixed — but only if you’re willing to accept that it is currently not functional. Modern ed reform is the Windows ME of education. But just as you pretty quickly replaced Windows ME with Windows XP which everyone liked, you can do the same with education reform, I’m certain. Debugging ed reform is not easy. Since it was never properly designed with a plan to ensure quality, you’ve got yourself a bug riddled mess. It was not developed modularly so it is difficult to track down where the most critical bugs are even occurring.”

Gary walks Bill through the flawed assumptions of the “reforms” he has subsidized. They aren’t working.

Gary notes that in 2013 Bill sang the praises of a Colorado school that had adopted the Gates’ approach to teacher evaluation. Gary shows that this very school was experiencing declining test scores and was actually lagging the state.

Gary gives Bill candid advice:

“I do believe that you want your money to go to a good cause. This is admirable. The problem is that most of your money is going to people I’d describe as education hucksters. I’m going to be as blunt as only someone who is not on the payroll can be. In the education game you are what’s known as a ‘fat-cat,’ a ‘mark,’ a sucker.

“You are like the Emperor who was swindled into purchasing non-existent clothes. But that Emperor was brought back to reality when a blunt child said what everyone else what thinking. In ed reform it is blunt experienced teachers who are willing to say the obvious.”

Gary speaks respectfully to Bill but bluntly. I hope Bill reads Gary’s letter. Gary is trying to help him by straight talk.

Peter Greene has done an amazing investigative review of the Boston Consulting Group. What is BCG? Why do reformers in so many cities hire this management consulting firm? What is its connection to the Gates Foundation and Arne Duncan?

Greene writes:

“Word went out today that immediately after Arkansas decided to make Little Rock Schools non-public, the Walton family called a “focus group” meeting “in conjunction with the Boston Consulting Group. This is worse than finding the slender man in the back of your family portrait. For a public school system, this is finding the grim reaper at your front door. And he’s not selling cookies.”

Greene reveals BCG’s business strategies, which are totally inappropriate for education but beloved by reformers.

“Bottom line? Say a little prayer for the formerly public schools of Little Rock, because BCG is in town and they’re sharpening their axe.”

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