Leonie Haimson is fed up with the line that the mainstream media has taken about education controversies. Reporters usually think that every protest is organized by the unions, defending their self-interest, and they are warring with high-minded reformers. She says this is balderdash! (Sorry, Leonie, my word, not yours.) If parents hold a protest against high-stakes testing and against test-based teacher evaluations (which causes more time to be devoted to testing), most reporters will say the union made them do it, the union doesn’t want to be held accountable. Well, guess what? The unions are not leading the Opt Out movement. Many teachers support it, because they know how pointless the new tests are, but the great majority of people leading the movement are parents. They don’t want their children to be pressured by fear of the Big Standardized Test, they don’t want them to be ranked and labeled, they don’t want them to hate school because of the endless test prep. Leonie was especially irked by a recent story in the New York Times about the two forces trying to win Hillary Clinton’s allegiance: on one hand, the teachers’ unions; on the other, the Wall Street tycoons who might finance her campaign. One has the votes, the other has the money. In the middle of the story, the reporter Maggie Haberman inexplicably refers to the hedge fund managers’ group Democrats for Education Reform as “left of center.” These are the Wall Street billionaires and mere multimillionaires who are pushing the privatization and high-stakes testing agenda; they dearly love charter schools and look on public schools with disdain as places that one must escape from. What you would expect from people who mainly went to Exeter, Deerfield Academy, Groton, and other tony private schools. Left of center? Hardly. Corporate style reformers? Yes.
This is a remarkable and candid story of Jorge Cabrera, who joined the reform movement as a believer. He wanted to help the children of Bridgeport, where he grew up. He wanted better schools. He was a community organizer for Excel Schools.
And then he learned the truth.
“As I began my work in the “education reform movement” in Bridgeport, I noticed a plethora of ivy league educated “consultants” and “transformational leaders” that littered the often loose coalition of funders, new organizations and executive directors. From the beginning, it was clear that many of these new “leaders” that were emerging were well credentialed. They had graduated from prestigious universities and, it was presumed (though not by me), that alone qualified them to lead. Many were very young (recent graduates), energetic, unmarried with no children and little life experience. They often exhibited a cultish commitment to “the movement.” Their zeal for “education reform” and “saving the children” often resulted in a bizarre abdication of critical thinking that made a mockery of their high priced “education.” For instance, in many meetings I attended, many of these acolytes extolled the virtues of charter schools as the only solution to closing the achievement gap in Bridgeport but never once did anyone bother to discuss the ample research (i.e. “Teaching with Poverty in Mind” ) available regarding the negative impact of poverty on academic achievement or that Bridgeport had several public magnet schools that outperformed (as measured by standardized test scores) many charter schools. These magnet schools had long track records (20 plus years) of success and I assumed we should advocate for what we know, firmly, works. Despite this evidence, there was never any serious discussion regarding expanding magnet school options or advocating for high quality, universal preschool programs (research shows the achievement gap begins at this level). The entire approach to “education reform” lacked any serious understanding of the many variables (i.e., social-emotional issues, poverty, funding, English language learners) that clearly effect a child’s ability to learn. Anytime a more dynamic and multifaceted approach to closing the achievement gap was raised it was quickly dismissed as “making excuses.” The atmosphere vacillated between a callous indifference to the real challenges Bridgeport children faced and arrogant dismissiveness. Permeated throughout these various organizations that formed a loose network of power was a culture that prized blind dedication to the “mission” and socially affirmed and promoted those who obeyed and exhibited “urgency” in “reforming” the “failing schools.” The people in “the movement” made it clear that it was up to the “best and brightest” of minds to “transform” the “system” as “outside influencers.” By “best and brightest” they almost exclusively meant people who would do their bidding without question and certainly not anyone that would exhibit any degree of independent or critical thought. On more than one occasion, when the argument was made that the solutions to the multilayered challenge of public education needed to come from the people and required an authentic, engaging process with the Bridgeport community the response was often glib at best. I recall in one strategic planning meeting when I advocated for authentic engagement and patience to allow parents the time to become informed on the various issues and was told to, “just use language to convince” the parents and impress upon them a sense of “urgency.” Another person told me, “It’s all about how you say it…..”
“I began to sense that someone or something I was not fully aware of was calling the shots behind the scenes and many of these young ivy leaguers were the mercenaries on the front lines tasked with implementing the agenda. This whole enterprise was quickly becoming astroturfing and I was in the middle of it. Worse, I was starting to feel like I was hired to put lipstick on a pig and it was beginning to burn me on the inside. Nevertheless, through it all, I never gave up hope and tried to create spaces for honest, authentic and fact based discussions inside “the movement” with limited success.”
The reformers decided that Bridgeport needed mayoral control, so the mayor could open more charters faster. In the run-up to the election, high-priced media consultants arrived to take charge.
“Immediately, the focus was on marketing and sloganeering. Worse, we were trying to build the plane while it was in the air! The whole thing was rushed and disorganized. We were told to make sure we communicated to the public that voting in favor of the city charter change was good for parents, students and would lead to better academic outcomes. The insinuation was that anyone who was against the charter revision changes was anti-child or anti-education. When parents or community leaders asked questions that required more substantive, fact based responses we were coached to respond to everything in soundbites and with shallow arguments that lacked any grounding in reality. It was the worse kind of insult to the community’s intelligence and pandered to the worse aspects of human nature and—it almost worked.”
” My nearly three years in the “movement” in Bridgeport revealed to me the incredible lengths that private, often unseen and unaccountable power will go to in order to create and capitalize on a crisis. In Bridgeport, that crisis in our public education system was created by powerful forces at the local and state level who systematically starved the school system by withholding necessary school funding (Shock #1) which then created a crisis that set the stage for a takeover (Shock #2) of the Bridgeport board of education on the eve of the fourth of July in 2011. Essentially, these forces were engaged in a form of social engineering under the guise of “urgency” and “reform.” To be clear, in this “movement” there are people who have good intentions and sincerly want to improve the conditions of Bridgeport’s public schools but they do not sit at the tables of power when strategic decisions are made and their voices are often silenced. Their talents, skills and knowledge are often used to serve a larger, opaque agenda that is dictated by a radical ideology of deregulation and privatization. Shot throughout most, if not all, of the education reform “movement” you will find the radical ideology of economist Milton Friedman. Looking back, there were moments when this mindset (disaster capitalism) was revealed to me in meetings. On one occassion, a very influential operator in the “education reform” community was discussing the “amazing opportunity” that revealed itself after hurricane Katrina in New Orleans desimated the population and led to the “charterization” of the public school system. He expounded that sometimes you have to, “…burn the village to save it…” and that what we (the “reform community”) are essentially involved in is, “creative destruction.” Worse, he argued that we needed a “clean slate” in order for real “change” to happen in the school system in Bridgeport. But this was my home. This was the city I grew up in and where most of my family lived and worked. You want to burn down their city!? You want to destroy it so you can be creative!? For whom? It was all surreal. I was done.”
It’s an incredible story that confirms your darkest suspicions.
Jeannie Kaplan was an elected member of the Denver school board for two terms. She is a steadfast critic of the “reforms” in Denver in recent years. She says they have failed. but reformers never think twice or admit failure. At each school board election, “reformers” spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to win a seat. The current board is tilted 6-1 for “reform.” She expects that this faction will take total control in Noovember, leaving no one to ask questions about their failed agenda.
Why do we refuse to learn from successful nations? The top ten high-performing nations do not test every child every year.
Why aren’t we willing to learn from educational disasters in other nations? Take Chile, for example.
In this post, two scholars–Alfredo Gaete and Stephanie Jones–explain what happened in Chile when national leaders imposed the free-market ideas of two libertarian economists, Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman.
Inspired by the ideas of such neoliberal economists as Hayek and Friedman, the “Chilean experiment” was meant to prove that education can achieve its highest quality when its administration is handed over mainly to the private sector and, therefore, to the forces of the market.
How did they do this?
Basically by creating charter schools with a voucher system and a number of mechanisms for ensuring both the competition among them and the profitability of their business. In this scenario, the state has a subsidiary but still important role, namely, to introduce national standards and assess schools by virtue of them (in such a way that national rankings can be produced).
This accountability job, along with the provision of funding, is almost everything that was left to the Chilean state regarding education, in the hope that competition, marketing, and the like would lead the country to develop the best possible educational system.
So what happened? Here are some facts after about three decades of the “Chilean experiment” that, chillingly, has also been called the “Chilean Miracle” like the more recent U.S. “New Orleans Miracle.”
First, there is no clear evidence that students have significantly improved their performance on standardized tests, the preferred measurement used to assess schools within this scenario of the free market.
Second, there is now consensus among researchers that both the educational and the socioeconomic gaps have been increased. Chile is now a far more unequal society than it was before the privatization of education – and there is a clear correlation between family income and student achievement according to standardized testing and similar measures.
Third, studies have shown that schools serving the more underprivileged students have greater difficulties not only for responding competitively but also for innovating and improving school attractiveness in a way to acquire students and therefore funding.
Fourth, many schools are now investing more in marketing strategies than in actually improving their services.
Fifth, the accountability culture required by the market has yielded a teach-to-the-test schema that is progressively neglecting the variety and richness of more integral educational practices.
Sixth, some researchers believe that all this has negatively affected teachers’ professional autonomy, which in turn has triggered feelings of demoralization, anxiety, and in the end poor teaching practices inside schools and an unattractive profession from the outside.
Seventh, a general sense of frustration and dissatisfaction has arisen not only among school communities but actually in the great majority of the population. Indeed, the ‘Penguins Revolution’ – a secondary students’ revolt driven by complaints about the quality and equity of Chilean education – led to the most massive social protest movement in the country during the last 20 years….
The ‘Chilean Miracle’ – like the ‘New Orleans Miracle’ – it seems, is not a miracle of student growth, achievement, equity, and high quality education for all. Rather, it is a miracle that a once protected public good was finally exploited as a competitive private market where profit-seeking corporations could receive a greater and greater share of public tax dollars.
It is also a miracle that such profit-seeking private companies and corporations, including publishing giants that produce educational materials and tests, have managed to keep the target of accountability on teachers and schools and not on their own backs.
Their treasure trove of funding – state and federal tax monies – continues to flow even as their materials, technological innovations, products, services, and tests fail to provide positive results.
Why are we allowing philanthropists, entrepreneurs, and the U.S. Department of Education to force us to follow the same path as Chile? Are we powerless? No. Show your displeasure by opting out, speaking out, contacting your elected representatives. Organize demonstrations and protests. Make them notice you. Stop them.
Joshua Leibner writes here about a new HBO television show called “Togetherness,” selling the idea of charter schools as the latest trend for hip white families.
They don’t want their children to be in a minority. But they are uncomfortable with the idea of private school. The charter school offers them a chance to avoid “those” children and get a free education and at the same time, think they are on the cutting edge.
The show’s creators, Mark and Jay Duplass, are the very talented Hollywood powerhouse titans of smart, artsy films about the white middle class and its obsessions; their work dominates Sundance and they have a four-picture deal with Netflix. The brothers also live in Eagle Rock, Los Angeles School Board District 5, and that’s where they’ve set “Togetherness.” It also happens to be where I live and will send my son to school when he is old enough. Although the show is ostensibly about the marriage and lives of Hollywood sound man Brett and his wife, Michelle, the charter school plotline is enlightening and can be discussed in light of not only LAUSD’s relationship to these characters, but to the nation as a whole.
The charter school speech-maker, David Garcia, an aspiring politician, begins with the mantra that has been drummed around the country for the last 20 years: “Our public education system is broken.”
Is it broken in Palos Verdes? In Beverly Hills? In Malibu? Or any of the richer districts that surround L.A.? No, but definitely, apparently, in Eagle Rock.
Michelle goes up to David after his speech and says, “My daughter is going to start kindergarten and we’re talking about where is she going to go… what is she going to do… I’m wondering why is there not some community place — somewhere I can put her and feel good with a lot of different people. I don’t want to put her in a private school where she doesn’t get to experience what life is like where we live. I mean why is there not a great place?”
The Eagle Rock public schools are obviously not an option for Michelle. Our local elementary schools — Eagle Rock, Rockdale, Dahlia Heights — get conflated into the fictional “Townsend Elementary,” and are clearly not gonna cut it. It goes without saying.
Michelle has previously been shown speaking longingly to her husband, who has all but decided to put their kid in private school: “Don’t you want her to be in a different kind of community with kids of different colors and economic backgrounds?
That obviously — to these characters and to many real life members of their demographic — isn’t the public schools.
But why not? One LAUSD school board member has said pointedly that “maybe it’s time for the district to look in the mirror and figure out what can be done within district schools to make parents less eager to remove their children into charters.”
True enough. And maybe it’s time for charter school advocates to look into their own mirror.
Is it, could it actually be, the “bird shit” and “five-day-old sloppy joes”? No, because episode 6 demonstrates how hard Michelle is willing to work to find and clean out an old building for the new school. Surely, cleaning up some bird feces at an already functioning facility and agitating for better food — or packing a lunchbox — would have been much easier.
Is it because a bloated school bureaucracy is truly causing these parents to be “disenfranchised and lost”? Not really, because when David and Michelle finally make their impassioned plea for a charter to the public school commission in Sacramento, they are met with misty-eyed commissioners and an implied approval.
Could it be — gasp! — race, or class? Eagle Rock Elementary School is only 17 percent white, with 57 percent of the kids qualifying for subsidized school lunches.
No, no, no, no! the series replies. In the final episode, there is Michelle leading a post-racial bandwagon, driving up to Sacramento to argue their case. Along with David, the show’s sole Latino, there’s a gay Asian political consultant and a black principal who will fight for this charter. They all bond over a car karaoke hit.
Wealthy white people, as a rule, control the charter school industry across the country. White people run the billionaire philanthropic foundations that funnel money into charter schools. White people dominate the editorial boards of the major urban papers who sympathize with charter school interests.
No surprise that the film-makers have a deal with Netflix. Netflix is owned by Reed Hastings, who sits on the board of KIPP and Rocketship, and who predicted at a California Charters Schools Association that one day there would be no boards of education, only charter schools. Hastings, at last look, was a multimillionaire, but he might be a billionaire.
Nicholas Tampio, political science professor at Fordham University, here explains the profit-driven ambitions of Pearson and the philosophy of Michael Barber, the chief academic officer of Pearson. It is no surprise that Pearson looks to the American testing market as a cash cow. It is no surprise that it hires the best lobbyists in Washington, D.C., and in the key state capitols. It is no surprise that it is extending its reach across the globe, trying to persuade other nations that they need standardized tests to measure children and adults.
But what you need to read about is Michael Barber’s driving ideology, which he summarized in his book “Deliverology.”
We can learn more about Pearson and its sweeping vision for the future by turning to a 2011 book by the company’s chief academic officer, Michael Barber. In “Deliverology 101: A Field Guide for Educational Leaders,” he lays out his philosophy and, unintentionally, reveals why parents, teachers and politicians must do everything they can to break Pearson’s stranglehold on education policy around the world.
Barber has worked on education policy for British Prime Minister Tony Blair as well as for McKinsey & Co. “Deliverology,” written with assistance from two other McKinsey experts, is clearly inflected by the worldview of management consulting.
The authors define “deliverology” as “the emerging science of getting things done” and “a systematic process for driving progress and delivering results in government and the public sector.” The book targets systems leaders, politicians who support education reform and delivery leaders, employees responsible for the day-to-day implementation of structural change.
Deliverology alternates between painting a big picture of what needs to be done and offering maxims such as “To aspire means to lead from the front” and “Endless public debate will create problems that could potentially derail your delivery effort.”
In a democracy, we do engage in “endless public debate,” but such debates slow down the reform train. That is why corporate reformers like mayoral control and state takeovers. They like one decider who can tell everyone what to do. Local school boards are not easy to capture, there are too many of them. Like ALEC, the corporate reformers want to bypass local school boards and give the governor–or a commission he appoints–total control.
Barber believes in the “alchemy of relationships,” or the power of a small group of people working together to enact structural change. For example, Barber applauds Barack Obama’s Race to the Top program for providing a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform public education in America,” including through the Common Core. Barber’s book offers leaders advice on how to implement the Common Corestandards that Pearson employees helped write.
Taking inspiration from Margaret Thatcher’s motto “Don’t tell me what, tell me how,” Barber rarely discusses what schools should teach or cites scholarship on pedagogy. Instead, the book emphasizes again and again that leaders need metrics — e.g., standardized test scores — to measure whether reforms are helping children become literate and numerate. Of course, Pearson just happens to be one of the world’s largest vendors of the products Barber recommends for building education systems.
This spring, a prominent anti–Common Core activist tweeted, “I don’t think the Ed reformers understand the sheer fury of marginalized parents.” Barber understands this fury but thinks the “laggards” will come around once enough people see the positive results.
Deliverology even instructs leaders how to respond to common excuses from people who object to education reform.
“Deliverology” is a field guide — or a battle plan — showing education reformers how to push ahead through all resistance and never have second thoughts. As Barber quotes Robert F. Kennedy, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” Parents and teachers who do not want to adapt to the new state of affairs are branded “defenders of the status quo.” Barber ends the book by telling reformers to stick with their plans but acknowledge the emotional argument of opponents: “I understand why you might be angry; I would not enjoy this if it were happening to me either.”
The best way to throw a monkey wrench into the plans of the “deliverologists” is to resist. Opt out. Refuse the test. Join with other parents to resist. Say no. Don’t let Pearson define your child.
Let me cut to the chase– I cannot recommend enough that you watch Defies Measurement, a new film by Shannon Puckett.
The film is a clear-eyed, well-sourced look at the business of test-driven corporate-managed profiteer-promoted education reform, and it has several strengths that make it excellent viewing both for those of us who have been staring at these issues for a while and for teachers and civilians who are just now starting to understand that something is going wrong.
The film is anchored by the story of Chipman Middle School in Alemeda, a school that up until ten years ago was an educational pioneer, using the solid research about brains and learning (and where Shannon Puckett once taught). They were a vibrant, exciting, hands-on school that defied expectations about what could be done with middle schools students in a poor urban setting. And then came No Child Left Behind, and we see a focus on test scores and canned programs replace programs centered on creating strong independent thinkers, even as Laura Bush comes to visit to draw attention to the school’s embrace of testing culture. It is heartbreaking to watch some of the teachers from the school reflect on their experience a decade later; one sadly admits that she sold out, while another says she still feels remorse, but that she didn’t sell out– she was duped, making the mistaken assumption that the important people making edicts from on high knew something that she did not. She no longer thinks so.
The story of Chipman is a backdrop for considering the various elements that have played out in the reformosphere over the last decade. The film looks at the flow of reform-pushing money, the smoke-and-mirrors rise of charters and how that has failed in the Charter Dreamland of New Orleans, the misunderstanding of how kids learn (if you’re not a Howard Gardner fan you’ll have to grit your teeth for a minute), the history of standardized testing, the false narrative of US testing failure, the rise of resegregation, the corrosive effects of reform on the teaching profession, the destructiveness of Race to the Top, and how teaching the whole child in a safe and nurturing environment is great for humans, even if it doesn’t help with testing.
Historian and teacher John Thompson reports on the progress of privatization in Oklahoma.
The state naively accepted the Gates compact, which obliged districts to welcome charter schools.
“The previous blockbuster discovery for Oklahoma City and Tulsa schools was S.B. 68, the “under-the-radar” bill to authorize cities to compete with school systems in sponsoring charter schools. The Tulsa World’s Andrea Eger, in “Change in State Law Sought for Tulsa Public Schools Would Allow Outsourcing of Instruction,” reports that another charter bill, H.B. 1691, “has flown largely beneath the public’s radar during a legislative session that has seen high-profile clashes over bills seeking private school vouchers and the expansion of charter schools into rural areas.”
“Eger reports that the Tulsa Public School System is moving ahead with plans to locate its three newest charters inside traditional public school facilities. Lunch and bus service would be provided for students. All three contract charters would be run by an out-of-state charter-management organization.
“Linda Hampton, the president of the Oklahoma Education Association, opposes H.B. 1691 “[b]ecause the bill is so broad in scope, it could open the door to total privatization of public schools.” She adds, “We also want to be sure we are not turning over our public school students to organizations that are looking to make a profit.”
Tulsa’s next superintendent is Deborah Gist, previously state superintendent of Rhode Island and a member of Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change.
Watch for a full-blown drive for privatization in Oklahoma.
The Néw York Times says Hillary Clinton will be forced to choose between the Wall Street big donors and the teachers’ unions.
The real choice is between Wall Street money on one hand and millions of parents and teachers who are fed up with high-stakes testing and privatization of public schools, on the other.
Then it refers to the Democrats for Education Reform as a “left of center group,” even though its program is indistinguishable from that of Republican governors and it was denounced by the California Democratic Party as a front for corporate interests.
If you live in or near Milwaukee, try to meet and hear these veterans of the Great Néw Orleans Con Job:
On March 26th and 27th you will have a chance to interact with three activist immersed in the fight for public education in New Orleans.
On Thursday, March 26, 2015 at 4:30 p.m. at Milwaukee High School of the Arts (2300 W. Highland Ave.) they will conduct workshops. All are invited.
Friday, March 27, 2015 • 6:00 p.m. at Parklawn Assembly of God (3725 N. Sherman Blvd.) they will participate in a community meeting and panel.
Karran Harper Royal is a New Orleans
public school parent who
cares about real education
reform. She is an advocate
for disabled and challenged
children and an educational
Dr. Raynard Sanders
has more than 30 years of
experience in teaching,
development. He is a former
New Orleans high school principal.
Dr. Kristen Buras is an
associate professor in
Educational Policy Studies
at Georgia State University
in Atlanta. Buras has spent
the past decade researching
school reform in New Orleans.
See below for leaflets for both events:
Expert Panel Flyer 2015