Archives for category: Education Reform

John Thompson reviews here the report by the Network for Public Education on 15 years of Gates’ experiments on the lives of other people’s children and teachers.


“During the last fifteen years, we educators have each endured corporate school reform in our own way. It has not been fun. Sometimes competition-driven, data-driven micromanaging has been downright frightening. It has sometimes looked like our profession, our unions, and public education values were on the verge of being destroyed by market-driven, test-driven reform. The Network for Public Education (NPE) has just done us a great service in connecting the dots, and showing how many of the mandates we have endured are different verses of the Gates Foundation hymnal, and how they created the same discord.
“The NPE’s feature report, “Around the States with Bill Gates,” begins with the aptly titled “Gates Funding Elevates Teacher Voices that Sing Their Tune” by Anthony Cody. It ends with Carol Burris’s post mortem on the Gates’s “costly and ineffective adventure” with the Hillsborough, Florida teacher evaluation system. In between, ten contributors describe the Gates follies that have occurred in their postage stamp of the education world.
“In 2012, Anthony Cody engaged in a five-part exchange with representatives of the Gates Foundation. Cody presented a thorough, well-researched, review of the scientific evidence ignored by the foundation. The Gates participants largely repeated their same old talking points. Shockingly, the Gates debaters closed the series with a temper tantrum.


“Perhaps, they saw the debate as a high-stakes confrontation and they were embarrassed by the extent of their defeat. Or, maybe the foundation didn’t expect a mere teacher to assemble and concisely present such an overwhelming case against its policies.
“Back when Cody touched a nerve with the Gates Foundation, it was already clear that its ill-conceived teacher evaluation gamble would be extremely risky, but it was possible to believe that the foundation could learn how to listen to practitioners. That hope was shattered as $23 million of Gates grants were made to elevate “teacher voices.”


“Unfortunately, their scripted voices were elevated in order to counter ours.
“As the foundation explains, when Gates creates new organizations or funds existing ones that align with its clearly defined agenda, they “‘develop proposals that align with our strategic priorities and the organization’s focus and capabilities.'” For instance, Cody notes, “‘Teach Plus has received $17 million in Gates grants, and has worked to train teacher leaders, who then show up to testify before public hearings in support of the elimination of tenure, or the use of test scores for teacher evaluations.”
“Later, Carol Burris concludes with a review of the Hillsborough failure. Previously, there had been a close working relationship between district officials and the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association. Moreover, the national AFT has long been committed to rigorous teacher evaluations (through peer review) and professional development (through National Board Certification.) It was working collaboratively with Gates and Hillsborough.
“The rank-in-file teachers pushed backed at the Gates methods, however, complaining about the negative effects of merit pay and evaluation by test scores on their teaching. The president of the union local, who had once enthusiastically embraced the early Gates efforts, “told the School Board that the system she helped put into place is considered by teachers to be ‘demeaning and unfair’ and that teacher voice and input has decreased.” After Hillsborough spent half of its $300+ million in reserves in order to pay for the costly failure, and with another $50 million in cost overruns expected, the district pulled the plug on the Gates experiment.
“It was not just teachers who were ignored in Florida. Parent activist Colleen Wood, and other local community groups, were invited to join the United Way’s Committee for Empowering Effective Educators. But, the grant “prescribed exactly how many teachers, non-profits, and businesspeople were to be on the committee.” Wood quickly realized that the purpose of the process was to “rubber stamp” the Gates’s preferences.
“The Hillsborough debacle was consistent with what was witnessed by Denver teacher Aaron Lowenkron, who concludes that the Denver version of the Gates model “is mechanistic, punitive, and opaque.


“Essentially, it has become a tool of the administration to generate teacher churn and keep our union weak.”
“The Hillsborough and Denver setbacks are also consistent with my summary of the Tulsa experience where the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association says that the district and the union had a good relationship until Tulsa “became indebted to groups who pushed for charter schools, tying tests to teacher evaluations and other so-called ‘reforms’ that do not improve public schools or provide a true picture of a teacher’s worth and ability.” After becoming the 6th largest recipient of Gates funding, in 2015, Tulsa had to scramble to fill 499 of its 3,000 teaching positions, which is up from the normative turnover of about 300
“Similarly, Newark student, Tanaisa Brown, explains that due to Gates-style reforms, “Teachers are forced to teach to a test without proper resources, and are being evaluated by scores that hardly take into consideration multiple other factors that affect students’ ability to learn such as poverty and unique learning types.” Moreover, students are “pushed out of their very own school buildings and have to wonder if they will even have a school to attend for the upcoming school year.”


“The NPE also gives today’s recipients of Gates funding a historical perspective. As Mike Klonsky recalls, when Gates came to Chicago in 2001, its mission was “small schools.” When educators and small-schools activists asked whether they could be on the board that would administer the grants, they were told, “That would be like allowing the workers to run the factory.” Also at the beginning of the Gates efforts, Curt Dudley-Marling witnessed the funding of organizations such as National Council for Teacher Quality (NCTQ). Dudley-Marling explains how the NCTQ illustrates Gates’s “antipathy toward traditional teacher education.”


“”He saw the truth in Diane Ravitch’s explanation that it was founded “with the explicit purpose of harassing institutions of teacher education.”
“The NPE’s Bill Mathis and former TFA teacher, Gary Rubenstein, further remind us that it was not always clear that corporate reform policies would be pushed in such a ham-handed manner. The late AFT President Al Shanker advocated for charter schools as a place for innovation, not as a mechanism for charter management systems to assist in the mass closures of schools. Before 2005 or so, Rubenstein did not see TFA as morphing into “a massive public relations campaign whose main accomplishment was fueling its own growth and power.” Since then, TFA has allowed its fund raising message to be “weaponized by uninformed, but rich, meddlers like the Gates Foundation.”



“Bill Gates famously said of educators, “They have to give us this opportunity for experimentation.” Gates and his foundation (which largely staffed the leadership of Arne Duncan’s USDOE) did not wait for the results of preliminary experiments regarding their hunches about teacher quality before they were codified into law in almost all of the nation’s states. When after-the-fact research discovered that their teacher evaluation experiments would cost about 2% of school budgets, Leonie Haimson reminds us, Gates made a snap judgment that class size should be increased to pay for it. Since then, he has “continued to fund unconvincing studies attempting to prove that class size reduction is not cost effective; … Singlehandedly, he has financed an entire industry in anti-class size screeds from shoddy think tanks.”
Haimson also recounts the failure of InBloom which “was designed to help achieve Bill Gates’s vision of education: to mechanize instruction by plugging every child into a common curriculum, standards and tests, delivered by computers, with software that can data-mine their responses and through machine-driven algorithms, deliver ‘customized’ lessons and adaptive learning.” Despite “the demise of inBloom,” Haimson notes, “the Gates Foundation has not given up their attempt to supplant real personalized learning with learning through software and machines.”
“And that bring us to Susan DuFresne’s personal account of the impact of Gates policies on teachers in Washington. An informal poll determined that 16 of her 18 fellow K-2 teachers have considered quitting. She describes how Gates’s data-driven pedagogy “stack-rank(s) children like his Microsoft employees.” She concludes that, “These reforms have stripped humanity from what was once a whole-child system. Schools are now more segregated, more punitive, often joyless test-prep factories designed to sort, rank, and cull human beings for Gates’ profit.”
“The teacher in me would like to stress one of DuFresne’s points that may not be obvious outside the classroom. She protests, “The first two months of school is now 1:1 testing vs building relationships and establishing routines.”
“There is no time when the genuine teacher voice is more important than when kicking off the school year. That is the time when we must be fully devoted to leading a class worthy of our students’ dignity.


“We can’t serve two masters. We can’t fully commit to the building of trusting and loving relationships, and to engaging instruction, while subordinating ourselves and our students to the metrics loved by Gates. Teaching requires authenticity and it’s hard to tell your kids that you place their welfare above all – except when you have to obey the billionaire’s mandates. We can’t challenge our kids to fully and honestly embrace learning, while warning them that our quest for knowledge will be routinely interrupted by corporate micromanaging.
“It’s bad enough when high school teachers like I was are torn between two masters. I can only imagine the angst felt by a kindergarten teacher like DuFresne as she helps launch children on that first stage of schooling and the pursuit of a real education. Sadly, if we want to protect our ability to speak with our genuine teacher voice in class, we must raise it now to defeat the Gates mandates and it’s faux “teacher voices.”



Isaac Asimov wrote a short story in the 1950s called “The Fun They Had.” It was about a brother and sister in the year 2157 discussing a rare find: a book. They had never seen a book before. All their learning was at home, on a computer. They didn’t know what a human teacher was. Their mechanical teacher “taught” them and graded their responses.

Margie went into the schoolroom. It was right next to her bedroom, and the mechanical teacher was on and waiting for her. It was always on at the same time every day except Saturday and Sunday, because her mother said little girls learned better if they learned at regular hours.

The screen was lit up, and it said: “Today’s arithmetic lesson is on the addition of proper fractions. Please insert yesterday’s homework in the proper slot.”

Margie did so with a sigh. She was thinking about the old schools they had when her grandfather’s grandfather was a little boy. All the kids from the whole neighborhood came, laughing and shouting in the schoolyard, sitting together in the schoolroom, going home together at the end of the day. They learned the same things, so they could help one another on the homework and talk about it.

And the teachers were people…

The mechanical teacher was flashing on the screen: “When we add the fractions 1/2 and 1/4…”

Margie was thinking about how the kids must have loved it in the old days. She was thinking about the fun they had.

The House-Senate conference committee overwhelmingly (39-1) endorsed an overhaul of the No Child Left Behind, which was the latest (and worst) revision of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The new ESEA, which still must be approved by both houses of Congress, is called the Every Student Succeeds Act.


The ESSA limits the federal role, a direct rebuke to Arne Duncan’s belief that he was the national superintendent of schools. The law retains a large chunk of George W. Bush’s legacy, including annual testing, a practice not found in any high-performing nation. The law no longer requires teacher evaluation by test scores.


The Republicans wanted to restore state and local control, while the Democrats ironically defended Bush’s accountability emphasis. The outcome is a compromise.


Most everyone seems to have forgotten that the original purpose of ESEA was equity for the neediest students, meaning federal dollars to high-poverty schools. Don’t you long for the day when laws were given descriptive titles, rather than aspirational ones? “Every Student Succeeds” is the flip side of “No Child Left Behind.” What was wrong with “the Elementary and Secondary Education Act”?


I don’t want to sound cynical, but I’m prepared to wager any sum that 7 years, 10 years, or 15 years from now, no one will say that every student is now succeeding. So long as nearly a quarter of our nation’s children live in poverty, “success” will remain elusive. So long as experienced teachers are underpaid and disrespected, so long as the anti-teacher lobby files lawsuits to strip teachers of their rights, “success”will escape our grasp. So long as jobs continue to be outsourced and eliminated by technology, we must continue to worry about whether and how young people will be motivated to “succeed.”


But for the moment, let’s celebrate the demise of a terrible law that saw punishment as the federal strategy for school reform. Let’s celebrate that no future Secretary of Education will have the power to impose his or her flawed ideas on every public school and teacher in the nation. Let’s thank Senator Lamar Alexander and Senator Patty Murray for finally ending a failed and punitive law.



Peter Greene is selfless. He reads all sorts of blah-blah trivia so we don’t have to.

In this instance, he reviews a study of “personalized learning,” conducted mostly in charter schools. I hope by now you understand that the best kind of personalized learning involves a machine, not a person.

Peter is dismissive but he has a one-liner that will crack you up. My advice: don’t read this while drinking coffee.

Rahm Emanuel is the leading union-buster of the Democratic party. How a man who served as President Obama’s chief-of-staff became so antagonistic to labor unions is a story that I don’t know. I will wait for a Chicagoan to explain it.


Behind the scenes, he has had a lot of help. In this post, Mike Klonsky introduces you to one of Rahm’s most important helpers, who is leaving to make money in the private sector. Not a pretty picture.

A story in the Sacramento Bee speculates on Michelle Rhee’s future. The reporter, Christoper Cadelago, reviews her meteoric career as chancellor of the D.C. schools, her face on the cover of TIME (and Newsweek), her founding of StudentsFirst, then her decision to step down and devote herself to her husband’s career. Her new husband, Kevin Johnson, had been a superstar in basketball and when they married, was the popular mayor of Sacramento. There was talk that he might be the next governor of California.


Alas, the old rumors about sexual improprieties–the superstar and a teen–resurfaced along with a video of the girl being questioned about what the superstar did to her, as well as a new statement by the accuser, now an adult. The timing was not good for Mayor Johnson. ESPN was about to release a heroic film showing how he saved the local basketball team and kept it in Sacramento. ESPN cancelled the showing until it could figure out how to handle the latest uproar.


Lately, the story says,  Mrs. Johnson has not been seen much.


“Michelle Rhee, the combative former D.C. public schools chancellor who founded the national advocacy group StudentsFirst, has retreated recently from public view.


“Rhee, who is married to Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, was nowhere to be found at the downtown premiere of “Down in the Valley,” the shelved TV movie documenting Johnson’s successful campaign to keep the Kings from moving to Seattle. Rhee hasn’t been seen courtside with Johnson at Kings games.


“And she wasn’t by his side when Johnson, stung by the re-emergence of allegations that he molested a teenager, confirmed last month that he wouldn’t seek a third term at City Hall when his expires next year.”


The question is: What will Michelle Rhee Johnson do next?

Mercedes Schneider obtained a copy of a Walmart video for new employees, warning them not to join a union. The video was online, then taken down. She transcribed it, in the event it never resurfaces.

Shop at Walmart, and make America’s richest family richer.

Denis Smith used to work for the Ohio Department of Education, where he oversaw the charter schools. Now that he has retired, he can speak freely.


In this post, he reflects on the recall of faulty cars and airbags. And he wonders, what if faulty charters could be recalled?


The post is priceless for the number of links to industry malfeasance.


He includes a long list of charter industry failures, suggesting that embezzlement and cooking the books is not a one-off phenomenon, but a systemic failure.



Here are some examples of problems in that other, non-automotive, non-manufacturing industry:


A record 17 industry locations in one city – Columbus – closed in just one year.
One of the industry’s treasurers embezzled nearly $500,000 from several locations, earning a two-year prison sentence.
An executive in the industry, operating under a phony consulting contract, also embezzled about a half-million dollars, while employee salaries had to be cut in an economy move.
In Cleveland, five industry executives were charged with stealing nearly $2 million in a scheme that saw the creation of five shell companies to receive public funds. Even the board chairman, who owned the building in which the industry operated, was part of the fraud that was detailed in a 32-count indictment.
Three industry treasurers were singled out several years ago for their responsibility with more than $1 million in “questionable spending,” according to audit findings.

Emily Talmage teaches fourth grade in Maine. She wasn’t supposed to be a career teacher. She went to Exeter, then Amherst, and became a teacher through the New York City Teaching Fellows Program. Unexpectedly, she discovered that she loved teaching.

As it happened, she was a sophomore at Exeter when Mark Zuckerberg was a senior. She may have shared a Latin class with him. She takes advantage of this slight proximity to write an open letter to him, warning him that he is hanging out with the wrong crowd. That is, Bill Gates and the other corporate reformers.

Here is an excerpt:

“Corporate reformers,” as we call them on the ground, are very good at preying on our best intentions. I, myself, was once taken in by a school that promised it was “closing the achievement gap,” but whose practices were so appalling and abusive that I left within a year. Of course, I have never been to a Summit Public School, so I cannot speak about their system. I must confess, however, that when I see who else is promoting this school, the hair on the back of my neck stands up.

“Let me assure you that “personalized learning,” as it is being pushed by the Gates Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Digital Learning Now Council, as well as countless educational technology companies, start-ups, and venture capitalists who have invested millions into personalized learning experiments (they call them “innovations”), is a far, far cry from the type of education we got at Exeter.

“At Exeter, we sat around shiny hardwood tables debating meaning buried within novels that were carefully selected by our teachers; we disagreed about interpretations of historical events, and were sometimes drowned out by the passion of Harkness Warriors (I was never one of those, were you?). Our teachers had ways of guiding us toward particular insights, but they never held us hostage to specific outcomes, or “competencies” as they are called now, before allowing us to move on. (If you aren’t sure what I mean by “competencies” and the role they play in personalized learning models, please read more here.) If an outside observer had come into one of our classrooms, as happens now in many public schools, to ask us “What is your learning target today, and how will you know if you have met it?” I’m quite sure not many of us would have been able to say. Our teachers probably would have been appalled at such a question.

“These are the constraints under which “personalized” learning models operate. Standards, competencies, learning targets and progressions, all of which must be tracked and monitored and controlled in order to work, are the ingredients of “personalized learning.” Students may be in control of their “learning trajectory,” in such a model, but not of their own minds, as we were at Exeter.

“In my humble opinion, this is a bastardization of true education.

“Of course, you can see why venture capitalists, educational technology companies and their related foundations (yes, I do mean Gates) would see a prime opportunity for profit through this type of model. Computers can, indeed, do this type of work.”

Will Mark Zuckerberg see Emily’s letter?

Post it on his Facebook page. He needs our help.

What is it about billionaires that makes them either fascinating or punching bags or both? For some, it may be envy; it may be admiration; it may be a sense of injustice that life is so unfair. At the present moment, several billionaires have set themselves up as objects of ridicule because of their presumptuous belief that they have the wisdom to reform public education. Some among them, such as Eli Broad, the Waktins, and Bill Gates have decided that privately managed schools are superior to democratically controlled schools. They feel no compunction about pushing privatization of what belongs to the public.


The most tempting target for ridicule is Bill Gates, because he thinks he knows how to fix teaching and he pays states and districts to support privatization. He actually knows nothing about teaching, having never taught; and he knows little or nothing about public schools, having never been a student or a parent in one.


He recently visited South Carolina to pontificate on subjects about which he is misinformed. This gave Paul Thomas, who taught in the public schools of that state for many years and is now a professor at Furman University, an opportunity to reflect on Bill Gates’ shortcomings. He concluded that the much esteemed Mr. Gates is delusional. Maybe there are more diplomatic adjectives: misinformed, ignorant, uninformed, arrogant. I guess if people bow and scrape because you are rich, it makes you think you know it all.


Thomas cites four of Bill Gates’ delusions about reforming education. The first is his delusion that he is doing something new, when in fact he is perpetuating the same failed accountability policies of the past 25 years or so. The second delusion is that school choice solves any problems worth solving. The third delusion is that ever-higher standards and more rigorous tests lead to education improvement. Read the piece to see what the fourth delusion is!




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