Archives for category: Corporate Reformers

Andrea Gabor, who is the Bloomberg Professor of Business Journalism at Baruch College, is an expert on the life and philosophy of W. Edwards Deming. Deming has been widely credited with reviving the Japanese economy, as well as major American corporations who listened to him.


In this fascinating post, she draws lessons from the work of Deming and shows how they apply to education reform. The “reformers” want the schools to learn from business, but they are pushing the wrong lessons, she says. “Top-down, punitive solutions” don’t work. They demoralize employees. Deming believed in a work environment of collaboration and trust, not fear and blame. When things were not going well, he believed it was wrong to blame the front-line workers. While today’s “reformers” want to find and fire “bad teachers,” Deming insisted: “The responsibility for quality rests with senior management.” He was a dedicated foe of performance pay, as he concluded that it sowed dissension and unhealthy competition among workers who should be working as a team.


She writes:


Deming’s approach to organizational improvement transformed entire industries in post-war Japan and, later, in the U.S. In the years leading up to his death, in 1993, he began turning his interest to education. He believed that the same principles he advocated for companies—systems thinking, collaborative improvement, understanding statistical variation, creating organizational cultures free of fear and conducive to creative problem-solving—could also transform schools.


Simply put, Deming would be appalled by much of what passes for education reform today…..


Deming’s work has important implications for education: First, it is based on management (everyone from principals to education bureaucrats) recognizing its responsibility for creating a climate conducive to meaningful improvement, including building trust and collaboration, and providing the necessary training; this involves hard work, Deming admonished, not quick-fix gimmicks, incentives or threats.


Second, for many teacher advocates, it means dropping the defensive—education-is-good-enough—posture and embracing a mindset of continuous improvement; it also may mean adopting union contracts that mirror the professional practices of many teachers and are based on more flexible work rules. (Though not the unsustainable sweat-shop hours that are common at many charters.)


Third, by ending the finger-pointing and building a more collaborative approach to improvement, schools and districts could create cultures that are far more rewarding and productive for both children and educators….


Deming invoked the power of statistical theory: If management is doing its job correctly in terms of hiring, developing employees and keeping the system stable, most people will do their best. Of course, there will always be fluctuations—human beings, after all, aren’t automatons. Deming understood that an employee with a sick child, a toothache or some other “special cause” problem may not function at peak performance all the time. However, in a well-designed system, most employees will perform around a mean.


There will also be outliers who perform above or below the mean—though well-run organizations will have the fewest outliers because they’re hiring and training practices will guarantee a consistent level of performance. The work of high performers, Deming believed, should be studied; their work can serve as a model for improving the system.


Low performers, Deming believed, represent a failure of management to perform one of its key functions. Deming believed that hiring represents a moral and contractual obligation. Once hired, it is management’s responsibility to help every employee succeed whether via training or relocation. While it might occasionally be necessary to fire a poor performer, Deming believed this option should be a last resort…..


The lessons for education are clear: Quality improvement must begin with senior management (principals and education bureaucrats) establishing the conditions for collaboration and iterative problem-solving. It requires flexibility and professionalism from both teachers and education leaders. Finally, a climate of fear and finger-pointing will do nothing to improve schools; indeed, it is likely to set back the effort for years to come.


There is much we can learn from Deming. This important post is a must-read.





Jeannie Kaplan was a member of the Denver school board for many years. She is a knowledgeable critic of the steady drumbeat of “reform.” Despite a decade of corporate-style reform, she says, Denver has little to show for it.


But what Denver does have is an elaborate system of metrics. Kaplan explains here how the district has contorted itself to come up with the right balance between “proficiency” and “growth.” The formula gets tweaked from time to time, but the public still doesn’t understand what the metrics mean. Does anyone? Is there any other nation in the world that spends so much time and money trying to develop the right measure of a good school instead of investing in the policies and practices that have been proven by research, like reduced class sizes for struggling students, a full and rich curriculum for all students, strong programs in the arts, wraparound services (including medical care, school nurses, and social workers), and after-school and summer programs.

John Oliver has some of the smartest political commentary on television. In this Youtube video, he explains ALEC, the corporate-funded organization that writes model legislation for states to benefit corporations and defund the public sector. One of every four state legislators, Oliver says, belongs to this secretive group that promotes privatization. ALEC supports charters and vouchers and test-based teacher evaluation. It opposes teacher tenure and unions. For some inexplicable reason, ALEC is tax-exempt.

Lloyd Lofthouse, a regular commentator on this blog, has written a succinct history of public education, bullet points that show the good and the bad, as well as the recent efforts by billionaires to destroy public education.

Thanks to reader Chiara for noting this meeting of corporate reformers in Chicago. Funding was provided by the Walton Foundation, which pours about $160 million into charter schools and vouchers every single year, as well as advocacy for privatization in some of our major media.


The ironic note is that the first selling point in the invitation to the meeting is that it will offer “small classes.” Corporate reformers mock the idea of small classes for children in public schools. But it is a selling point for their own meetings.

I read a story about a charter school in Germantown, Pennsylvania. It is called Imhotep Charter School. It has a new $10 million facility. I can’t figure out who is in charge and where the money goes. Isn’t there an auditor? Stories like this are happening with increasing frequency as charters multiply and accountability shrinks.


There seems to be a tug of war between the school and the nonprofit to which it is connected about who owns the building. Meanwhile the founder of the school has been fired by a board, whose chairperson is the founder’s daughter.


I bring this to your attention because I can’t understand what is happening. I know that this school is publicly-funded but it seems to be in more than the usual turmoil, not what you are likely to find in your neighborhood public school.


“Sankofa Network Inc., a related nonprofit that owns Imhotep’s campus, filed a Common Pleas Court lawsuit last week alleging the charter owes $1.2 million in rent, interest, and fees.

The court action comes after the school, which opened in 1998, was rocked by months of turmoil, including the ouster in late June of M. Christine Wiggins, Imhotep’s founding chief executive.

The Imhotep board voted not to renew Wiggins’ contract after the School District’s charter office said in April that it would recommend not renewing the school’s charter on several grounds, including poor academic performance.


The lawyer for the school said the lawsuit was frivolous and that all bills were paid.



Sharon Wilson, a lawyer who represents Sankofa Network, said the nonprofit acted after it was told by the bank that as of Oct. 1 it was delinquent nearly $900,000 in repaying a construction loan and a line of credit.


In addition to uncertainty about the financial stability of the school, charter authorizers worried about its academic performance:


Concerns about academic performance at Imhotep prompted the district’s charter office to express reservations about renewing the school’s charter.


Although Imhotep, which has 525 students in grades nine through 12, has been praised for sending a high percentage of its graduates to college, the school’s records show that in 2013, only 9 percent of Imhotep students scored proficient on the state’s Keystone exams in Algebra 1 and 5 percent in Biology 1. In literature, 37 percent were proficient.


When I see billionaires throwing huge sums into local and state elections with the hope of opening more charters, I wonder if they believe their claims that charters will improve American education. Do they know that none of the world’s high-performing nations have charters or vouchers?





Franchesca Warren is outraged by “the deadening silence of teachers.” Teachers are afraid to say what they know and believe for fear of being fired.

She writes:

“As a pretty opinionated teacher, I am always full of ideas and speak out regularly against practices that are unjust or not beneficial to students. However, time and time again I have been “scolded” by more veteran teachers who warn me that being vocal would quickly get me “blackballed” in the district. This fact was even more evident when I was invited to a private screening of a new documentary entitled “Scapegoats.” The film uses teacher interviews to examine how teachers have historically been made to be the scapegoats with anything bad that occurs in education. While I was in total agreement with what was being said in the document, I was dismayed that more than half of the teachers interviewed opted to have their face (and voices) distorted so their administration would not retaliate against them.

“As I listened to teachers recall the atrocities that occur in public education, it was evident that these educational “pundits” and politicians have made it nearly impossible for teachers to exercise their first amendment rights. Teachers are terrified of voicing their opinions because many times it not only makes them a target but could possibly make them not get their contract renewed for the following year!

“Instead of forgetting my feelings and just chalking the film up to that how things are, I got angry.”

She adds:

“The truth is hidden while the public is made to believe that lies are the truth. Truth be told, the majority of teachers loathe the increased standardized testing in schools. Truth be told, the people who make policies about education don’t even have their kids enrolled in public schools. Truth be told, the people who run the school districts are usually not equipped with the pedagogy or experience to actually lead a classroom in 2013. Truth be told, federal programs like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are just programs to further destroy public education and allow private entities to take our tax dollars.”

And more:

“Despite the deafening silence, there are many educators who are getting angry and speaking up with no regard to the possible consequences. You have district administrators like John Kuhn who say “enough is enough” and write eloquent pieces like “Exhaustion of the American Teacher.”

“You have teachers who decided to make the film “The Inconvenient Truths Behind Waiting for Superman” and expose the policies that hurt our students.

“You have the teachers in Chicago and Oregon that courageously decided to strike to ensure that their voices would be heard.

“Times are changing, and I for one am glad. The truth is no longer being hidden by our deafening silence. There are more teacher in the world than people who might want to silence us. So speak, act, march, discuss and demand to be heard. Apparently, we might have the 14th Amendment on our side.”

An Ohio teacher sent this YouTube video made by a student, John Prusak, who started an anti-Common Core club, with tee-shirts and this video. You will be amazed.

Millions on millions have been spent by billionaires to push through their agenda of privatization and to disrupt entire school districts, on the assumption that disruption is “creative.” No doubt, they are getting ready for the next elections, opening their wallets to anyone who promises to open more nonunion charters and to attack due process for teachers. In this statement, Steve Zimmer–who overcame a billionaire-funded candidate in his last election for the Los Angeles school board–calls for a truce. He asks the billionaires to work together with school leaders to make schools better for children, instead of squandering more millions to “win.” Win or lose, the problems for the kids remains the same. Why not collaborate and do what is best for them, which is not political but consists of meeting their needs for smaller class size, medical care, the arts, librarians, social workers, and the same kind of education that the millionaires want for their own children.


He writes:


The results of yesterday’s election once again confirm that public education is
not for sale. Against a gale storm of unprecedented funding, Tom Torlakson,
State Superintendent of Instruction narrowly won re-election. This was the most
expensive State Superintendent race in U. S. History. I congratulate
Superintendent Torlakson and urge him to continue his collaborative approach to
transforming outcomes for all students in California. I look forward to
continuing our close working relationship so that the Department of Education
expands the resources available to classrooms in support of student learning
throughout our District.

I also offer my best wishes to Marshall Tuck whom I have known well for many
years. I know that Marshall will continue to be a passionate advocate for
schools serving students in the most peril.

While it is tempting to feel exhilarated in the wake of this important victory,
I mostly feel exhausted. I am sick and tired of dodging bullets from corporate
education reform billionaires who have an endless magazine of resources to shoot
at folks trying to solve the problems facing our schools.

There must be another way we can have this important conversation. Instead of
reflecting on how the millions we spend distorting truths, attacking and
bullying one another could help real kids in real classrooms today, the
California Charter Schools Association is simply reloading their guns for the
Spring School Board elections. I am sure CTA and our other labor partners will
gear up their defense systems again in response. I have a long list of programs
we could fund in LAUSD with the close to $20 million dollars that went into this
latest battle. More and more it seems like a zero sum game in which kids lose
every time.

The solutions to the problems facing our kids are never simple. They require us
to roll up our sleeves and work together to find the difficult answers in
policy, in pedagogy and in practice. Finding solutions starts with listening.
Teachers listening to parents, parents listening to teachers, school leaders
listening to the community and everyone listening to our students. The last half
dozen election cycles have had a ton of screaming. Close to $50 million dollars
worth. And barely an ounce of listening.

I still believe that collaboration trumps conflict and that we can find common
ground. I still have hope that we can transcend the power struggles in the name
of the promise that public education still holds for families who dream of a
better life for their children. If we remember that we hold those dreams in our
hands, maybe we can do more than dust ourselves off and prepare for the next

One must search to find brights spots in last night’s election, like the victory of Tom Torlakson in California and the defeat of the anti-teacher constitutional amendment in Missouri.

Bruce Rauner, the charter-smitten billionaire, was elected Governor in Illinois. Early in his campaign, he proposed lowering the minimum wage. Scott Walker was re-elected Governor of Wisconsin. Rick Scott was re-elected in Florida. There were many more such victories for people who hold the public sector in contempt and believe in Social Darwinism. It was a bad night for those who hope for a larger vision of the common good, some vision grander than each one on his own.

American history and politics are cyclical. It may require the excesses of this time to bring a turn of the wheel. It’s always darkest just before dawn.


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