Archives for category: Corporate Reformers

Deborah Gist, the former state superintendent of schools in Rhode Island, has recommended a $920,000 contract for the Boston Consulting Group in Tulsa, where she is now district superintendent. The contract will be funded by “private donors.”

BCG has won similar contracts in other districts. Their reports typically recommend downsizing and privatization.

This is not good news for Tulsa.

The first question that citizens of Tulsa should ask is, what is the education expertise of this business consulting group? When last I looked, Margaret Spellings–who has never run a school district–was its education consultant. Since she is now the new president of the University of North Carolina system, who is running the education business at BCG? Who are the “experts” at BCG who know more than Deborah Gist and the teachers of Tulsa?

The Tulsa school board will be writing a blank check to BCG unless they find out exactly who is giving advice and why Tulsa should want it, even if someone else is paying the bill.

In other districts, when BCG arrives, public education is in danger.

A reader told me that the school board gave him this article to reassure him.

The lead author used to be Rick Hess’ assistant at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. None of the three co-authors ever worked in a school, according to their online bios.

What expertise do they have in education?

Jan Resseger, a long-time advocate for children, families, and public schools in Ohio, asks “What Gives Campbell Brown Standing to Spin the News about Public Education?” Good question.


She was a news anchor.  I know she gets upset when I say this, but she is pretty. It’s true; being pretty is nothing to feel bad about.


She has no prior experience in education. But with the financial support of the Walton Family and the Bloomberg Foundation and a few other billionaire donors, she now is in a position to opine about how to “reform” public schools. Did she ever attend one? Do her children? Was she ever a teacher or a principal? Is she a scholar? Has she studied the problems of the schools in depth? We know the answers to those questions.


She is obsessed with stripping away the rights of teachers. She hates unions. She thinks the schools are staffed by large numbers of sexual predators.


Why? I don’t know.


This is a hilarious explanation of how charter schools succeed. If you might be offended, don’t watch.


If you want to see a hotly debated issue presented in graphic form, then take a peek. Only 2 minutes.

Stuart Egan teaches AP high school English and Shakespeare in North Carolina. He has great interest in how words are used and he teaches his students to understand rhetoric. Thus, he has puzzled over the current use of the word “reform.”


In the customary usage, “reform” means to improve. In the current usage, it means to make changes that lead to profits for a few. He shows here how language can be used to awaken the public to the sham of “reform” and to the need to restore education to its real purposes.


He tries here to reclaim the meaning of the word “reform.”


He writes:


2016 is a huge year. With many veteran GOP legislators not seeking reelection and a surely contested gubernatorial race, we in North Carolina have an opportunity to add our own meanings to words in the dictionary used in Raleigh. Here are just a few that alphabetically appear on the same pages as “reform.”


Recommit – to pledge to fully fund public schools so they are not lacking for resources or personnel
Redact – to edit legislation that has previously negatively impacted public schools
Redeem – to transfer monies given to for-profit virtual schools and frivolous charter schools back to public schools
Rediscover – to again realize that our state constitution mandates our government fully fund public schools
Refrain – to keep from placing politics and personalities before students’ well-being
Reinvigorate – to give more voice to teachers and educators in school improvement initiatives as they are the people in the classrooms
Renew – to place a new focus on student progress rather than arbitrary test scores
Replace – to exchange current systems of testing and evaluation protocols with ones that truly measure teacher effectiveness and student progress
Respect – to value teachers with both monetary compensation and freedom to do their jobs
Restore – to bring back due process rights and graduate pay for new teachers
Resurrect – to bring back the North Carolina Teaching Fellows and stimulate more growth in our collegiate education programs
Revise – to review how the General Assembly is allowed to craft bills and legislation behind closed doors without proper debate
Revitalize – to allow our school system to have the power and right to make improvements as they see fit
Revive – to focus on all traditional public schools and their health before haphazardly constructing superfluous charter schools and virtual campuses
Revoke (two definitions) – a: to cancel and annul reactionary legislative acts that are simply repackaged, unproven educational alterations which recycle and reinstitute unproven practices that lead to a relapse of regression and regret and rely on resources created by for-profit companies which remove the importance of the teacher in the classroom and reject what educational researchers have identified as vital to the health of public education (shortened definition); b: to take away the legislative power of those who have harmed public education by electing legislators in 2016 who have public education’s best interests in mind.
And that’s just words that begin with “re.”



As the campaign commercials and advertisements become more frequent and riddled with political spin and stretched truths, just remember that the meanings of words can be manipulated like “reform” and that innocuous slogans like “Carolina Comeback” can be misleading.


In these next 10 months, visit your local public schools, ask teachers, parents, and students what obstacles could be removed to improve conditions and vote for those candidates in November who are willing to remove those impediments.



One of the funniest and sharpest commentators on the follies and madness of contemporary education policy is EduShyster, known to friends and family as Jennifer Berkshire.


Jennifer is launching a podcast, which she calls “Have You Heard?”


Her first podcast is about the opt-out movement in Philadelphia. She is a great interviewer, and her podcasts will help to spread the word about the good and terrible things happening in education today.


She travels the country in search of stories, and she will be interviewing some of the leading figures in education from different ends of the ideological spectrum, asking tough questions.


Add EduShyster’s podcast to your reading and listening routine.

The edu-propaganda film “Waiting for ‘Superman'” promulgated the myth that charter schools were the equivalent to Superman, that powerful guy who flies through the sky to save the city from destruction time and time again. Geoffrey Canada says in the film that he cried when he learned that Superman was not real, because help was not on the way. But the film proceeds to construct a fairy tale in which children are saved by leaving public schools, Catholic schools, and even suburban schools and enrolling in a charter school, if they were lucky enough to win the lottery. More than five years have passed since the release of that film in September 2010, and we now know that charter schools are a mixed bag. Many get lower test scores than district public schools; those that get higher test scores, on closer inspection, have weeded out the kids likely to have low scores. Yet politicians continue to promote them as a sure cure for the neediest children.


Peter Greene here explains the fascination with Superman. No matter how many times sensible people and experienced educators warn that improving education is never quick or easy, that there is no secret sauce, no magic bullet, no miracles, the charter promoters are still selling their pie-in-the-sky.


The fundamental Superman idea is that some external force, some deus ex machina, will descend from the skies (or corporate headquarters) and perform miraculous feats. In the case of school reform, the belief in Superman is expressed through such mechanisms as a state takeover, a turnaround strategy in which everyone gets fired and replaced, a charter takeover, an Achievement School District. The very act of bringing in new management is supposed to have a transformative effect. Although there is no research, experience, or evidence, our leaders refuse to abandon their belief in Superman, the tooth fairy, the Easter bunny, and Santa Claus.


Greene writes:


The emergency management system we see in Michigan is just one way of expressing the Superman Theory of Change– there are Supermen among us, and they could save the lesser beings, if only we stopped holding them back. Superman could bring us excellence, but the enemy of excellence is bureaucracy and regulation and rules and, most of all, democracy.


Counting on Superman has led to a variety of initiatives. The various attempts to break tenure (like Vergara and Reed before it) have come from the belief that when Superman takes over a school district, he must (like a CEO) be free to hire and fire based on what he alone can see with his super vision. (And schools would work so much better if every classroom was taught by another Superman).


The need to break unions is part of the same trend. Unions tie Superman down, forcing him to follow a bunch of stupid rules every time he wants to strap on his cape and take to the skies.


Likewise, government regulations get in Superman’s way, keeping him earthbound in a web of red tape. For a Superman believer like Jeb! Bush, it makes perfect sense to say that Flint’s crisis was caused by too much regulation– if the Supermen who emergency manage Flint and Detroit hadn’t had to deal with local and federal authorities at all, they would have avoided this whole mess.


Superman also needs to be un-hampered by “politics.” Reed Hastings (Netflix) famously supported the idea of doing away with elected school boards entirely, because they are too unstable, too susceptible to the will and whims of the public. This distaste for politics gives, in hindsight, a new understanding to the common complaint from reformsters a few years ago, who kept bemoaning how ed reform ideas like Common Core were being tripped up by “politics,” meaning, we can now see, that people were trying to keep Superman from exerting his full powers.


Yes, the greatest obstacle to Superman is democracy. People get in the way. So it becomes necessary to have the state take control, to have an emergency manager with dictatorial powers, to create a commission appointed by the governor to override local school boards, to have a mayor in charge of the schools.


Look how well it has worked in Detroit. And now Governor Rauner of Illinois wants to take control of Chicago public schools. But politics and democracy get in the way.



NC Policy Watch reports that legislation is advancing that would permit for-profit charter operators to take over the state’s lowest-performing schools, the great majority of them in low-income minority communities. The models for the takeover is the Tennessee Achievement School District, the Michigan Educational Achievement Authority, and the elimination of public schools in New Orleans. However, sponsors of the legislation say that the North Carolina would be the same only different. It would be done the North Carolina way.


N.C. Rep. Rob Bryan, the Republican from Mecklenburg County who chairs the committee and the leading proponent for achievement school districts in the legislature, said that the districts—pioneered, to mixed results in states like Louisiana, Michigan and Tennessee—could be phased into North Carolina as soon as the 2017-2018 academic year.


“We are neither Tennessee, nor are we New Orleans,” said Bryan. “But what I’m looking to do here is do what’s right for North Carolina.”


Bryan authored a much-discussed draft of legislation last year that would have funneled five of the state’s lowest-performing elementary schools into the state-controlled achievement districts as a pilot program, although the notion did not gain any significant traction during the General Assembly’s long budget debates last summer.


The draft Bryan unveiled Wednesday had few differences from last year’s prospective bill, potentially ceding the power to hire and fire teachers and administrators to private, for-profit charter leaders. Pilot schools would be placed into a special state-run district, with a superintendent chosen by the State Board of Education who would have the power to negotiate operation contracts with private companies, effectively seizing control from local school boards.


The charter operators would be expected to help turn around academic performance in the schools.


As N.C. Policy Watch reported last year, lobbying for the movement was financed by Oregon millionaire and conservative private school backer John Bryan (no relation to Rep. Rob Bryan).


One of the researchers at Vanderbilt who studied the Tennessee ASD model and found it ineffective was in town to speak to a public education group about his study, but the legislative committee did not invite him to address them about what his group learned.


The state superintendent said that the public schools should lead any turnaround effort; the Tennessee study from Vanderbilt showed that the iZone schools, created and led by the public schools, outperformed the ASD charter schools:


“I believe that the taxpayers of North Carolina would get a better return on their investments by going with a model that has proven positive results,” North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson told N.C. Policy Watch Tuesday.


To Atkinson, that means pursuing public school-led initiatives, offering low-performing schools greater support, access to preschool programs and more flexible calendar years.


As Atkinson points out, students in low-performing schools can lose two to three months of reading development during traditional schools’ summer break.


“We have to address these root causes or we’ll continue to have these conversations 10 years from now,” said Atkinson.


And then there was a startling statement, startling because it was plain common sense, which has been in rare supply since 2010 in North Carolina:


Meanwhile, Rep. Ed Hanes Jr., a Democrat from Forsyth County, blasted state officials during Wednesday’s committee meeting for failing to do enough to address the societal and economic causes of low-performing schools.


As Barbour pointed out Wednesday, low-performing schools in the state are disproportionately serving low-income and minority children.


“It sounds like a lot of talk,” said Hanes. “It sounds like we don’t really dig into what the real issues are. … And it sounds to me like we really don’t care a whole lot about poor people.”

Despite the documented failure of the Tennessee Achievement District, the Charlotte Observer thinks it is worth a try to copy the same model in North Carolina. In Tennessee, the ASD was created to take over neighborhood public schools that rated in the lowest 5% in the state based on test scores and give them to charter operators. Within five years, starting in 2012, those charter schools would rank in the top 25% in the state. But the ASD schools are not on track to show any improvement.


Gary Rubinstein demonstrated that four of the original six schools in the ASD remained in the bottom 5%, while the other two are in the bottom 6%.


A recent Vanderbilt study concluded that the ASD schools were ineffective, although they held out hope that they might get better over time.


Ron Zimmer of Vanderbilt said the study showed that the district’s own innovative public schools outperformed the charters:


Zimmer’s team, which was asked by the state to keep tabs on progress from the outset, zoomed in on test data more closely than the typical measures of “below basic” and “proficient.” While there were some changes year-to-year — up and down — there was no statistical improvement on the whole, certainly not enough to catapult these low-performing schools into some of the state’s best, which was the lofty goal.


“It may be a little disappointing to those who were advocating for the Achievement School District that we haven’t seen better results at this point,” Zimmer says.


The Vanderbilt researchers found more encouraging results with the turnaround efforts known as iZones led by local districts in Memphis and Nashville.


Chalkbeat Tennessee stressed that if the state wants real improvement, it should look to the iZone model run by the Shelby County public schools.


Days before the Tennessee Achievement School District is to announce whether it will take over five more Memphis schools next year, Vanderbilt has released a study suggesting the city’s low-performing schools would be better off in Shelby County Schools’ Innovation Zone.
The study, released Tuesday, shows that iZone schools have sizeable positive effects on student test scores, while the ASD’s effects are marginal. That means that students at ASD schools are performing mostly at the same low levels they likely would have had their school not been taken over by the state-run school turnaround district.


A little over a year ago, two Metro Nashville school board members complained that the ASD (which now manages 27 charter schools) wanted to take over one of Nashville’s high-performing public schools as a way of boosting ASD’s lackluster performance. Parents were outraged, as they were in many of the other takeover schools.


While the charter movement is allegedly predicated on parental “choice,” that choice seems to vanish when appointed ASD officials decide to impose a charter school on a community. The ASD is pushing forward despite protests by parents, teachers, community members, a variety of elected officials from the community (including current and former school board members), and even the MNPS Director of Schools.


Why, under these circumstances, would the ASD insist upon a hostile takeover of Neely’s Bend when other local schools clearly require more attention? The answer is simple: The ASD is trying to save itself. It has cherry-picked a school to boost its own dismal performance. This is a prime example of a government bureaucracy attempting to justify its own existence.


Although originally conceived as something very different, the ASD has become a way for state officials to hand over neighborhood schools to charter operators. This has not proven to be an effective solution. Despite higher per pupil expenditures (the exact amount has not been revealed), the ASD is underperforming. In Memphis, where nearly all ASD schools are located, district-operated schools outpace ASD schools, and, in fact, the ASD overall showed negative growth in every single subject area in 2014.


The ASD did take over Neely’s Bend, and just last month the Black Caucus in the Legislature called for a halt to ASD expansion because of community opposition and no results.


Why should North Carolina adopt a model that has shown no results? What is it about failure that the Charlotte Observer editorial board likes? Why not adopt proven practices that strengthen public schools–like reducing class size, adding a health clinic– instead of handing them over to privately operated charters?









Ken Wagner, who was deputy commissioner of education in New York when Jihn King was commissioner, is now commissioner in Rhode Island. He brings with him the tattered faith in charter schools and standardized testing that marked King’s tumultuous tenure.


Wagner wants public schools to be more like charter schools. It seems only fair that public schools should be freed of the mNdates that charter schools are relieved of.



However, some questions should be cleared up.



Will ill public schools be free to exclude students with disabilities, like charter schools?


Will they be free to exclude students who don’t speak English?


Will they be free to adopt “no excuses” disciplinary codes?


Will they they be free to suspend children as young as 5, repeatedly?


Will they be free to pay their CEO $400,000-500,000?


Will they be free to break their teachers’ contract?


These are a few questions that should be answered before moving forward.

Deborah Meier, a long-time leader of genuine school reform and an opponent of standardized testing, read an article by Jim Horn of “Schools Matter” that referenced a simmering feud among allies. The basis for the article was a series of posts (see here and here) and comments on this blog. Several readers watched the angry comments and wondered what was going on.
As you will see in Horn’s piece, he and others are angry at Fairtest, which has led the fight against high-stakes testing for many years. Horn, Mary Porter, and Emily Talmadge warned that Fairtest was taking Gates money and was no longer trustworthy. Lisa Guisbond of Fairtest replied several times on the blog, insisting that Fairtest had not sold out, that it had taken a one-times Gates grant of $5,000 to study performance assessment. There was a lot of back and forth.
Deb Meier wrote this email to me:
“Wow. Shades of past history.
“Many decisions go into finding and financing different strategies. But if we decide its worth attacking each other rather than trying to persuade each other we are truly killing ourselves. Surely some of you have held views that have over time changed…
“I could weep.
“FairTest and Monty have a long long history of exposing bad tests, long before many others were even worrying about the subject. Neither FairTest, nor Monty nor Bob nor Lisa are getting wealthy doing this for so many years, years, and years. They may even occasionally be wrong. I know I have. I amstill unsettled re the issue of the use of choice, for example. And I took money for our small schools from many sources, as long as they didn’t compromise our work. Maybe we shouldn’t have? I’m not sure.
“CCE was founded in the early 90s to support the work of Coalition of Essential Schools that pioneered a very different form of “high stakes” assessment–what we call Portfolio reviews by Panels. (Read the work of Ted Sizer) They were the upfront fighters on behalf of the Pilot schools, and while Dan French and I disagree now and then, I’ve yet to find an ally that I always agree with. If I did I suspect they’d just be holding back to avoid an argument=-hardly the way to build a strong movement. (I actually love argument–especially among friends..)
“Let’s build our alliances in the spirit in which we build our schools–having honest conversation, hearing out those we disagree with, being thoughtful and temperate about our disagreements, and working together wherever we can: holding off creating more enemies than we need. A little affection, even when we disagree, wouldn’t do any harm.
“Let’s cut this tone out–without succumbing to ideas we disagree with. We can’t afford to fight our allies–the real, true long-time historic reformers like Fairtest —and the rich, wealthy, corporate so-called reformers at the same time.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 167,252 other followers