Archives for category: Corporate Reformers

This letter came from an anonymous source in San Francisco whom I know to be trustworthy. Why the anonymity? The usual reason: fear of being fired for blowing the whistle. It raises the question of why some people teach under difficult circumstances when they could hang up a shingle with a snappy name and get funded for big ideas that have never been tried.

He writes:

Tom Vander Ark’s Ed Week column ran a guest commentary by Sandy Speicher, an executive of the San Francisco design firm IDEO, which appears to lay the groundwork for IDEO to become involved in education “reform” projects.

The column touts an IDEO project in San Francisco brainstorming the use of “design thinking” to improve the “school food experience” in San Francisco public schools, and strongly implies that IDEO’s ideas have been implemented. That’s false; none of the ideas has been implemented in any SFUSD school. This is an important point for observers to be aware of if IDEO continues to hype the project, given the fact that Speicher’s column made it appear that IDEO’s ideas had been implemented and had an impact.

IDEO’s work on the “design phase” of this project was funded by the Sara and Evan Williams Foundation; Evan Williams is a founder of Twitter. The foundation “has committed to providing ongoing support as the school district begins to bring these design ideas to life,” according to IDEO (though in reality, it remains to be seen if the school district will ever be able to use any of the ideas at all).

Here are some points about the IDEO school food proposals in San Francisco schools.

The project deliberately focuses on improving the “experience” but not the actual food.

Again, none of the recommendations — not one — has been implemented in any San Francisco school at any time. The Speicher commentary implies that they have, but that’s inaccurate.

None of the recommendations has even been tested in a real-life San Francisco school setting. Some have been tested on a very small scale, but not in a real-life setting. There was one test in a school cafeteria during the summer with student volunteers who were compensated for their time, not actual populations of students during the school day. There was ample time — no lunchtime rush — and there were plenty of adults, far more than are present in an operating cafeteria during a real school day. And there was no attention paid to the ironclad National School Lunch Program regulations for school meals.
The project actually makes a recommendation that’s likely to lower the quality of the food: increasing the use of government commodity products, which are widely criticized for their inferior quality.

The project’s recommendations for middle and high schools would result in eliminating the use of items from Revolution Foods, a vendor whose products have improved the quality of SFUSD school meals.

The recommendations were made largely without awareness or consideration of the National School Lunch Program regulations for school meals, meaning some or many would be impossible to implement.

The recommendation that has won most acclaim (communal meals at small tables with an adult at each) would require vastly more adults than currently staff SFUSD cafeterias — either depending heavily on volunteers or at greatly increased staffing cost.

The amount that the Williams Foundation has provided is not publicly known. Estimates are that $1 million has been paid to IDEO and $400,000 to SFUSD.

Despite the issues detailed above, SFUSD officials and school board members have given high praise to the IDEO project. Observers speculate that that’s in the hope of securing more funding from the Williams Foundation for school food programs.

For more background, here’s a San Francisco Chronicle feature written by an IDEO insider on the project:

Here’s a critique by San Francisco parent volunteer Dana Woldow, an expert and frequent commentator on school food issues:

Russ Walsh has been teaching about literacy for 45 years. He started blogging to share his thoughts.

But then he discovered that his views about literacy did not exist in isolation. They were part of a great national debate that involved the Common Core, education reform, charters, and other aspects corporate education reform. He read other bloggers and found that he was engaged as a. Teacher,a reader, a writer, and a thinker. These were not stages of development but a process of thinking, writing, and acting.

Now he too is part of the national debate.

A reader sends a simple recipe that city officials in places like Chicago and Philadelphia use when they want to close a public school and open a charter school:

“They create the demand by killing the public school BEFORE they close it. They underfund it, cut all the specials, close school libraries, let guidance counselors go, get rid of attendance officers, class sizes become huge. What is a parent to do? There would be LITTLE demand if the neighborhood PUBLIC schools were funded properly.”

In recent days, there has been an extended discussion online about an article by California whistle blower Kathleen Carroll, in which she blasts Randi Weingarten and the Teachers Union Reform Network for taking money from Gates, Broad, and other corporate reform groups, in some cases, more than a dozen years ago. Carroll also suggests that I am complicit in this “corruption” because I spoke to the 2013 national meeting of TURN and was probably paid with corporate reform money; she notes that Karen Lewis, Deborah Meier, and Linda Darling-Hammond also spoke to the TURN annual meeting in 2012 or 2013. I told Carroll that I was not paid to speak to TURN, also that I have spoken to rightwing think tanks, and that no matter where I speak and whether I am paid, my message is the same as what I write in my books and blogs. In the discussion, I mentioned that I spoke to the National Association of School Psychologists at its annual convention in 2012, one of whose sponsors was Pearson, and I thought it was funny that Pearson might have paid me to blast testing, my point being that I say what I want regardless of who puts up the money. At that point, Jim Horn used the discussion to lacerate me for various sins.

Mercedes Schneider decided to disentangle this mess of charges and countercharges. In the following post, Schneider uses her considerable research skills to dissect the issues, claims and counterclaims. All the links are included in this piece by Schneider. Schneider asked me for my speech to the National Association of School Psychologists as well as my remarks to the TURN meeting, which are included.

I will make two points here. First, Randi has been my friend for 20 years, and I don’t criticize my friends; we disagree on many points, for example, the Common Core, which I oppose and she supports. I don’t hide our disagreements but I won’t call her names or question her motives. Friends can disagree and remain friends.

Second, I recall learning how the left made itself impotent in American politics by fighting among themselves instead of uniting against the common adversary. I recall my first job at the New Leader magazine in 1960, where I learned about the enmity among the Cannonites, the Lovestonites, the Trotskyites, the Mensheviks, the Schactmanites, and other passionate groups in the 1930s. That’s when I became convinced that any successful movement must minimize infighting and strive for unity and common goals.

Even earlier, Benjamin Franklin was supposed to have said at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

Jeanne Kaplan served on the Denver school board for years and watched with a heavy heart as fake “reformers” took over Denver and Colorado. Now Colorado has the most punitive teacher evaluation law in the nation, thanks to Arne Duncan and Colorado’s State Senator Michael Johnston. When the NEA voted a resolution calling on Duncan to resign, the reporter didn’t speak to a teacher. No, the call went to Joe Williams of Democrats for Education Reform, the organization of hedge fund managers. When did DFER become the spokesman for Democrats or teachers or regular voters?

If your school has been closed, if the staff was fired in a “turnaround,” you have experienced the theory of disruptive innovation, which is associated with Harvard Business Professor Clayton Chistensen.

Or perhaps your neighborhood school fell victim to Joseph Schumpeter’s theory of “creative destruction.”

Just so you can see these ideologies from a critical perspective, be sure to read Harvard historian Jill Lepore’s critique of Christianson’s work on disruptive innovation, which first appeared in “The New Yorker.” She challenges his thesis and argues that those bold start-ups flamed out, while stable institutions live on. And yet the idea of disruption has become wildly popular, as we now see in education policy.

Charters and vouchers are disruptive. Firing entire staffs is disruptive. The results of these “innovations” have been unimpressive and sometimes disastrous, yet their champions continue to demand more and more. To understand why, read this article.

Leading Democrats have announced the creation of a new organization called Democrats for Public Education.

It will be led by Ted Strickland, former governor of Ohio, and Donna Brazile, political consultant.

Its name is a swipe at Democrats for Education Reform, which is dominated by hedge fund managers, and which funds candidates who support charter schools, Teach for America, and any other group that is antagonistic to public education.

Last year, the California Democratic Party passed a resolution calling on DFER to cease using the name “Democrats,” since their program is a front for the Republican and corporate agenda.

Peter Goodman regularly blogs about education in New York. He is close to the UFT leadership in New York City and thus has good sources. Here is his update from inside the AFT convention.

Reading this, I conclude that the AFT will not call for Arne Duncan’s resignation. This is the first time in my memory that the AFT was less militant than its larger brethren and sisters in the NEA.

It appears that there will be a floor debate about the Common Core. The Chicago Teachers Union is opposed to it. If my reading of the tea leaves is right, the New York City delegation is prepared to shoot that resolution down too. CTU is the outlier in this convention, battle-scarred and ready to fight. The NYC delegation has the numbers to vote them down.

Readers of this blog know my views. Arne Duncan is the most anti- teacher, anti-union Secretary of Education in the history of the Department. He was the guy who said that Hurricane Katrina was the best thing to happen to education in New Orleans, having swept away public schools and teachers’ unions (forget the death toll). He was the one who cheered the firing of the entire staff of Central Falls High School in Rhode Island. He was thrilled when the Los Angeles Times posted teachers’ (inaccurate) VAM ratings. He required states to adopt VAM ratings, which Randi wisely called “a sham” in her speech to the convention. He spoke admiringly of the Vergara decision. He should not be Secretary of Education. He should be Ambassador to some very small nation, where he can’t do much damage. Or teach basketball.

As for Common Core, I agree with CTU. Teachers don’t need scripts. They don’t need “standards” written by a committee that included not a single classroom teacher. They need class sizes they can manage. Their schools need equitable funding. They need tenure to protect them from political reprisals. They need due process and speedy resolution of complaints. They need respect. Common Core does nothing to alleviate the poverty in which nearly one-quarter of our children live. It does nothing to restore the art teachers, librarians, nurses and counselors who have been laid off. It does nothing to address the root causes of poor academic performance: poverty and segregation. It will die no matter what the AFT does because, frankly, it doesn’t matter.

Paul Bucheit writes about five aspects of corporate education reform.

1. Privatization takes from the poor and gives to the rich.

2. Testing doesn’t work.

3. The arts make better scientists.

4. Privatization means unequal opportunity for all.

5. Reformers are primarily business people, not educators.

To read his explanation, open the link.

Jeanne Kaplan recently retired as an elected member of the Denver school board. She has started her own blog where she will keep track of education in Denver.

Here is her inaugural post, where she lays out the facts about “reform” in Denver. The biggest “success” has been the steady increase in privately managed charter schools, most of which get free public space. The educational gains are harder to find.

She writes:

“My name is Jeannie Kaplan. I had the honor and privilege of serving on the Denver Public Schools Board of Education for 8 years, from 2005 through November 2013. Michael Bennet was superintendent, having been selected in June of 2005. Mr. Bennet served until January 2009 when he was selected to be the junior Senator from Colorado. His replacement was and continues to be Tom Boasberg, Michael’s childhood friend and former DPS Chief Operating Officer.

“I believe today as I did when I first ran for the school board that public education is a fundamental cornerstone of our democracy. I am starting a blog to explore and hopefully shed some light on the complicated issues challenging public education today. I am going to be writing about my passion, public education, with a focus on Denver Public Schools. I will try to provide a voice for a side of this debate that is often overlooked by the main stream media.”

Jeanne Kaplan is one of our nation’s strongest voices for public education and for democracy.


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