Archives for category: Privatization

The organization that has done the most to undermine public education is the Walton Family Foundation. It has given hundreds of millions of dollars to charter schools, voucher programs, Teach for America, and rightwing think tanks to advocate for privatization. The Néw York Times reported that the Walton foundation had underwritten one of every four charter start-ups in the nation. In addition, it has given more than $50 million to Teach for America to assure that the charters have a non-union teaching staff.

 

And lest we forget, the Walton family as individuals has given large sums to charter referenda in Georgia and Washington state, as well as to pro-privatization candidates.

 

A reader suggests:

 

“How about a national teachers’ boycott of Walmart re school supplies and asking parents/kids to do the same? Perhaps we can enlist Target or Office Depot, Staples, other nation wide alternatives. . .”

 

I generally don’t advocate boycotts, but on the other hand, I never never never shop at Walmart. That’s just me.

Learn here in only three minutes how to start a movement.

 

I posted this a few years ago, but it stayed with me as I watched what is happening in our society.

 

A few brave people spoke up and said what was in their hearts.

 

They didn’t like the corporate takeover of public education. They didn’t like the overemphasis on testing and the punishments that following testing. They didn’t like the nutty ideas that teachers are solely responsible for students’  test scores. They didn’t like the powerful top-down dictation coming from the federal government, nor the policy capture of government by hedge fund managers and billionaire philanthropists. They didn’t like the assault on public education as a keystone of our democracy.

 

One person alone is a “lone nut.” The key figures are the followers, who risk ridicule by joining in, but who together create a movement.

 

Today we have a movement. A movement of parents, educators, and concerned others who want to take education back from entrepreneurs; who want to build respect for teaching and learning; who admire teachers; who understand that poverty is the biggest obstacle in the lives of children who get low test scores; and who also understand that tests are a measure, not the goal of education. The goal of public education is to contribute to the development of well-educated citizens with humane values, citizens who are prepared to take charge of their own lives, to help their neighbors, to advance knowledge and science, and to improve our society. Turning standardized testing into a fetish does not advance us towards that goal.

 

 

Dallas is holding a crucial election on May 9. There is both a mayoral election and an election that will shape the school board and the fate of public education in the city. Mayor Mike Rawlings has worked closely with the business community to promote charters and privatization. Houston billionaire John Arnold (ex-Enron) created a “reform” organization called “Save Our Public Schools,” whose purpose is to push for a “home rule” district in Dallas that will allow local leaders to turn the Dallas into an all-charter district (in typical reform fashion, the name of the organization is the opposite of its real purpose).

Rawlings’ opponent, Marcos Ronquillo, has been endorsed by labor groups and community organizations. Rawlings has raised over $750,000; Ronquillo has raised $98,000, with pledges of another $78,000.

 

Dallas public schools have been under siege for the past three years. Its school board is dominated by so-called “reformers” who are not representative of the children in the public schools, nearly 90% of whom are minorities; the board majority admires the top-down, autocratic management style of Superintendent Mike Miles. Miles is a military man who graduated from the unaccredited Broad Superintendents Academy. Since he came to Dallas, the school district has been in turmoil. Many teachers have quit, principals come and go, initiatives come and go, achievement is flat as measured by test scores. There is no sense of stability.

 

When three members of the board called for a vote on Miles’ continued tenure, they were voted down, 6-3. In addition to Miles’ disruptive strategies, he has harassed school board members who disagree with him. When school board member Bernadette Nutall visited a troubled school in her own district, Miles sent members of the Dallas police force to remove her from the school.

 

If you want to get a sense of the polarization, demoralization, and anger that Miles’ tactics have produced, watch this YouTube video of the last school board meeting. This is a powerful and informative video. Please watch.

 

Before the Board meeting to discuss Miles’ future, the Dallas power structure rallied around him and even produced an organization with a report on academic progress in the Dallas schools under Miles. But not even the Dallas Morning News–a strong supporter of “reform” could accept the report’s slanted presentation. Its story pointed out that the number of A-rated schools had increased, as claimed, but the number of F-rated schools had grown even more.

 

For those who care about preserving the democratic institution of public education in Dallas; for those who want to stop an attempted privatization of the entire district, here are the school board candidates who deserve your support.

 

Kyle Renard, M.D., in district 1, David Lewis in district 3, and Bernadette Nutall in district 9.

 

To donate to these candidates, go to their websites: Dr. Kyle Renard; David Lewis. I did. I can’t find a “donate” page for Bernadette Nutall, or I would have sent her a contribution too.

 

If you are a parent or a teacher or a principal in Dallas, if you are a citizen who understands the importance of a free public education system with doors open to all, get out and vote. Early voting has already started. Call your friends and neighbors and urge them to vote. Don’t let the privateers take over the public schools of Dallas.

Having read and reviewed every line of the Alexander/Murray proposal to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka No Child Left Behind), Mercedes Schneider here renders her judgment about the bill as a whole and compares it to the one that the House of Representatives has been working on.

 

There are aspects to this bill to dislike: its love for charters, which make no sense unless you think the nation needs two publicly funded school system, one free to choose its students, the other not; its retention of annual testing, which has not achieved its goals for the past 13 years, making the United States the most over-tested nation in the world. And there are aspects to like a lot: like stripping the Secretary of Education of any power to control state and local decisions about standards and tests.

 

Though the bill is not perfect, it has one great advantage: it abandons the absurd goals, mandates, and sanctions that were central to NCLB.

 

Read Mercedes to see what she concludes.

Peter Greene fell for EduShyster, as everyone does. She can interview anyone, and she interviewed Peter Cunningham. Here’s Peter’s take.

He writes, for starters:

“I have now met Jennifer “Edushyster” Berkshire, and I totally get it. I don’t believe there is a human being on the planet who, upon sitting down with her, would not want to answer every question just to prolong the conversation and once you’re talking, well, lying to the woman would be like kicking a puppy.

“So it makes perfect sense that just about anybody would be willing to talk to her, even if she is on the Pro-Public Education side of the fence.

“She’s just put up an interview with Peter Cunningham, the former Arne Duncan wordifier who now runs Education Post, a pro-reformster political war room style rapid response operation (I knew I’d moved up in the blogging world when they took the time to spank me personally).

“I don’t imagine there are people who read this blog who do not also read Edushyster, but I’m going to keep linking/exhorting you to head over and check out this interview while I note a few of my own responses here.

“There are a couple of eyebrow-raisers in the interview that really underline the differences between the reformsters and the pro-public ed side of these debates. In particular, Cunningham notes that many reformsters feel isolated and under attack. When explaining how Broad approached him about starting EP, Cunningham says

“There was a broad feeling that the anti-reform community was very effective at piling on and that no one was organizing that on our side.

“Organized?! Organized!!?? It is possible that Broad et al have simply misdiagnosed their problem. Because I’m pretty sure that the pro-public ed advocate world, at least the part of it that I’ve seen, is not organized at all. But we believe what we are writing, so much so that the vast majority of us do it for free in our spare time (I am eating a bag lunch at my desk as I type this), and we pass on the things we read that we agree with.

“In fact, it occurs to me that contrary to what one might expect, we are the people using the Free Market version of distributing ideas– we create, we put it out there, we let it sink or swim in the marketplace of ideas. Meanwhile, the reformsters try to mount some sort of Central Planning approach, where they pay people to come up with ideas, pay people to promote those ideas, pay people to write about those ideas, and try to buy the marketplace so that their products can be prominently displayed.

“It is the exact same mistake that they have brought to education reform– the inability to distinguish between the appearance of success and actual success. If students look like they are succeeding (i.e. scoring high on tests they’ve been carefully prepped for), then they must be learning. If it looks like everybody is talking about our ideas (i.e. we bought lots of website space and hired cool writers and graphics), then we must be winning hearts and minds.”

Money can’t buy you love.

In this interview with Peter Cunningham, EduShyster gains his insights into the current thinking of the billionaire reformers.

 

Peter Cunningham was Arne Duncan’s communications director during Duncan’s first term. In Washington, he was known as “Arne’s Brain.” He is smart, charming, and well-spoken. So far as I know, he was never a teacher, but that is not a qualification these days for holding strong views about fixing the public schools. Cunningham is now back in Chicago. He started a blog called “Education Post,” which was funded with $12 million from the Broad Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and an anonymous philanthropy. Its goal, proclaimed at the outset, was to introduce a more civil tone into education debates and to advance certain ideas: “K-12 academic standards, high-quality charter schools, and how best to hold teachers and schools accountable for educating students.” Translated, that means it supports Common Core standards, charter schools, and high-stakes testing for teachers, as well as school closings based on testing.

 

You might say it is on the other side of almost every issue covered in this blog, as Ed Post praises “no-excuses” charter schools, standardized testing, Teach for America, and other corporate-style reforms.

 

EduShyster asked Cunningham if he feels the blog is succeeding, and he cites Nicholas Kristof’s recent column–admitting the failure of most reform efforts and the need to focus on early childhood programs–as an example of progress. When she pressed him about his “metrics” for “betterness,” he replies:

 

Cunningham: I think that an awful lot of people on the reform side of the fence are thrilled by what we’re doing. They really feel like *thank God somebody is standing up for us when we get attacked* and *thank God somebody is willing to call out people when they say things that are obviously false or that we think are false.* When I was asked to create this organization—it wasn’t my idea; I was initially approached by Broad—it was specifically because a lot of reform leaders felt like they were being piled on and that no one would come to their defense. They said somebody just needs to help right the ship here. There was a broad feeling that the anti-reform community was very effective at piling on and that no one was organizing that on our side. There was unequivocally a call to create a community of voices that would rise to the defense of people pushing reform who felt like they were isolated and alone.

 

EduShyster: That expression you see on my face is incredulity. But please go on sir. I want to hear more about the isolation and alone-ness of people pushing reform. How they are faring today?

 

Cunningham: Take Kevin Huffman. Now you can disagree with him on policy, but he felt like people were waking up everyday and just attacking him on social media. He tried to respond, and he just felt like it didn’t matter. By 2012-2013, Team Status Quo—your label not mine—was very effectively calling a lot of reform ideas into question. I mean look around the country. Huffman’s gone, John King is gone, John Deasy is gone, Michelle Rhee is gone. I’ve created the ability to swarm, because everyone felt like they were being swarmed. We now have people who will, when asked, lean in on the debate, when people feel like they’re just under siege.

 

There is much in this interview that is fascinating, but most interesting to me is that the billionaires, who have unlimited resources were “feeling isolated and alone.” They felt they were “being piled on and that no one would come to their defense.” They needed to hire bloggers to defend them.

 

This is indicative, I think, of the fact that social media is very powerful, and those who oppose the “reformers” own social media. The pro-public education voices are in the millions–millions of teachers, principals, parents, and students. The billionaire reformers hire thousands. Whether you consider the more than 200 bloggers who are part of the Education Bloggers Network, which advocates for public education, or consider Twitter and Facebook, the critics of billionaire-backed reform and privatization are many, are outspoken, and command a huge forum. No wonder the billionaires are feeling lonely and isolated. They can create astroturf organizations like StudentsFirst, Education Reform Now, 50CAN, TeachPlus, Educators4Excellence, and dozens more groups, but it is typically the same people running a small number of organizations and issuing press releases.

 

Is it time to feel sorry for the billionaires?

 

Be sure to read the comments that follow the interview.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the appearance of the New York Times’ article about the successes and harsh methods of Success Academy, there was quite a lot of discussion about whether the article was accurate and balanced. Eva Moskowitz said it was “slanted” with anecdotes.

I received an email from a former SA teacher who wanted to tell her story. She worked at SA for two years, but quit for reasons she explains below. She now works in another charter school. Her story is self-explanatory. She was not one of the teachers interviewed for the story in the New York Times.

 

 

In the recent New York Times article about Success Academy, CEO Eva Moskowitz defended a school leader’s use of the phrase “misery has to be felt” in an email about students who were not meeting expectations. After spending 2 years as a Success Academy teacher, it’s clear to me that misery was indeed a favorite tactic.

I’ve never worked anywhere where there was such a high chance of walking into the bathroom and seeing a colleague crying. Over the course of my two years there, I walked in on someone in tears at least a half a dozen times, and another half a dozen times the person crying in the bathroom was me. Teachers felt a lot of misery.

The first – and only – time I called out sick, I received a phone call around 9am from my assistant principal informing me that having “just a cold” was not a valid reason to call out sick, and that “unless you are vomiting, you are expected to medicate and push through.” At the end of the year, that sick day was given as a reason why my “level of professionalism” was a concern and why my rehire for the following year was in question.

My principal, who had no formal training as an educator, nevertheless frequently took control of my classroom in the middle of lessons and offered nothing but criticism of my teaching. After several weeks of feeling completely demoralized, a colleague delicately told our principal that it was getting hard to hear nothing but negative feedback, and that we were beginning to feel like the leadership thought nothing we were doing was right. He responded by rolling his eyes and saying “Oh, you want one of those compliment sandwich things? Ugh, I hate those!”

Another teacher who dared to raise the same concern on behalf of many of us at a staff meeting was fired. She was quietly brought back a few days later, but the damage to morale had been done.

One morning our beloved receptionist, an older woman that everyone regarded their work mom, came around classroom to classroom hugging each one of us. “There is a dark cloud over this building,” she said. “I want you to know I’m praying for you and for our kids.”

Misery, indeed.

But of course, the real tragedy of Success Academy is the misery of children. The misery of the low-income children of color who Ms. Moskowitz claims to want the best for. The misery of children who have learning disabilities and routinely don’t score well on the quarterly in-house assessments because their legally-deserved testing accommodations were denied them by the administration. The misery of children who have diagnosed emotional and behavioral disabilities and are still expected to adhere to the developmentally inappropriate behavioral expectations. The misery of any child who might be slightly different than the average, who is forced to comply with cookie-cutter behavioral and academic expectations that don’t respond to the needs of the individual child, in the name of systemic uniformity and “no excuses.”

To this day I feel sick to my stomach over the way I was made to speak to my students, and the things I was forced to demand from them. Backs straight, hands still, eyes tracking the speaker every second. Walking in the hallways silently and with their hands crossed over their chests so they wouldn’t touch things they weren’t supposed to. Working in complete silence almost all day long and hardly ever given an opportunity for collaborative work. For most of one of my years there the first and second graders ate lunch in silence too, because our principal had decided they couldn’t handle talking at an appropriate volume.

But of all of the awful stories from my time at Success, none will top the story of one of my little boys in first grade. He was new to Success, having left some other charter school for unclear reasons, and at first presented as a bright, sweet boy. But sometime in the winter, after months of seeming more and more defeated by a school environment that squashed his fiery spirit, he grew anxious and fidgety. These symptoms quickly escalated into weekly full-blown crisis situations in which he would suddenly start screaming and try to knock down every piece of furniture in our classroom. It was deeply troubling for the other students as well myself because it was clear that something very serious was going on in his little mind, and yet all our administrators seemed concerned about was getting his behavior under control. Their solution was to have our school security officer, a large man dressed in uniform, come upstairs and drag him out of our room. Knowing what I do now about childhood trauma, I understand the extent of the damage that must have done to him, as well as to all the other children in our class. At the end of the year it was not-so-subtly suggested to his family that this might not be the right place for him, and he moved on to to his third charter school in as many years.

Eva Moskowitz says Success Academy is the answer. She says she wants all kids to succeed. But she also says they need to feel misery if they do not rise to her nearly impossible expectations. What kind of success is that?

This is quite a remarkable admission. Nicholas Kristof writes today in the New York Times that the “reform” efforts have “peaked.” I read that and the rest of the column to mean that they have failed to make a difference. Think of it: Bill Gates, the Walton family, Eli Broad, Wendy Kopp, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, Florida Governor Rick Scott, Ohio Governor John Kasich, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, President George W. Bush, President Barack Obama, Michelle Rhee, Campbell Brown, and a host of other luminaries have been singing the same song for the past 15 years: Our schools are broken, and we can fix them with charters, vouchers, high-stakes testing, merit pay, elimination of unions, elimination of tenure, and rigorous efforts to remove teachers who can’t produce ever-rising test scores.

Despite the billions of dollars that the federal government, the states, and philanthropies have poured into this formula, it hasn’t worked, says Kristof. It is time to admit it and to focus instead on the early years from birth to kindergarten.

He writes:

For the last dozen years, waves of idealistic Americans have campaigned to reform and improve K-12 education.

Armies of college graduates joined Teach for America. Zillionaires invested in charter schools. Liberals and conservatives, holding their noses and agreeing on nothing else, cooperated to proclaim education the civil rights issue of our time.

Yet I wonder if the education reform movement hasn’t peaked.

The zillionaires are bruised. The idealists are dispirited. The number of young people applying for Teach for America, after 15 years of growth, has droppedfor the last two years. The Common Core curriculum is now an orphan, with politicians vigorously denying paternity.

K-12 education is an exhausted, bloodsoaked battlefield. It’s Agincourt, the day after. So a suggestion: Refocus some reformist passions on early childhood.

Wow! That is exactly what I wrote in “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools,” along with recommendations for reduced class sizes, a full curriculum, a de-emphasis on high-stakes testing, a revival of public policies to reduce poverty and segregation, and a recommitment to the importance of public education.

When I look at the Tea Party legislature in North Carolina or the hard-right politicians in the Midwest or the new for-profit education industry, I don’t think of them as idealistic but as ideologues. Aside from that, I think that Kristof gives hope to all those parents and teachers who have been working for years to stop these ideologues from destroying public education. Yes, it should be improved, it must be improved. There should be a good public school in every neighborhood, regardless of zip code. But that won’t happen unless our leaders dedicate themselves to changing the conditions in which families and children live so that all may have equal opportunity in education and in life.

In what can only be called a blistering editorial, LOHUD–the newspaper of the Lower Hudson Valley in New York–called for Merryl Tisch, the Chancellor of the Board of Regents, to step aside because of her failure to communicate with parents and to insulate educational decision-making from the Governor. Tisch is a gracious person from a philanthropic family, but she has been the leader of the hated testing regime, convinced that testing will close achievement gaps. But, as we know after a dozen years of No Child Left Behind, tests measure achievement gaps, they don’t close them. The editorial board at LOHUD correctly understands that the opt out movement is not an effort by parents’ to shield their children from bad news (or, as Arne Duncan insultingly said, “white suburban moms” who are disappointed that their child is not so “brilliant” after all), but is a resounding vote in opposition to the state’s forced implementation of Common Core without adequate preparation and to its heavy reliance on testing as the primary vehicle for “reform.” The switch to Common Core testing–where the vocabulary level is two-three years above grade level and the passing mark is absurdly high–produced ridiculous failing rates in 2013 and 2014 that unfairly punished all students, but especially English language learners, children with disabilities, and black and Hispanic students, whose failure rates were staggering. Since we now know that these tests produce no information other than a score, it is misleading to claim that the results help children or guide instruction. They offer no benefit to any student and will be used to penalize their teachers unfairly. The editorial recognizes that many parents and educators fear that the tests are being used to advance a privatization agenda, although the writer doubts that it is true. Having seen claims by proponents of Common Core testing that the results would drive suburban parents to demand charters and vouchers, I am inclined to think that the concerns about privatization are well-founded, not a conspiracy theory. We have been testing children every year since the enactment of No Child Left Behind in 2002; if tests created equity, we would know it by now. After all these years of testing, we know which students need smaller classes and extra help. Why are we not doing more to help them instead of doubling down on the stakes attached to testing?

Governor Cuomo loudly proclaimed his intention to break up what he calls “the public school monopoly,” and the Regents have not resisted the governor’s demands. They have meekly pursued a high-stakes testing strategy, and the Legislature shamefully acquiesced to the Governor’s anti-teacher, anti-public education demands. Under these circumstances, the opt out movement is the voice of democracy. The numbers are not final yet (the state won’t release them), but about 200,000 students refused the tests. This, despite the fact that state officials and many superintendents issued warnings and threats to damp down the opt outs. The numbers could grow higher this week when three days of math testing begin.

Skeptics will say that only 15% of students opted out. Expect their numbers to grow if leaders ignore them. We heard the same skeptics during the civil rights movement, who called its leaders “outside agitators,” we heard it during the anti-Vietnam war movement, when President Nixon appealed to “the silent majority.” The brave, the bold, and the principled step forward when rights are trampled, and government acts without the consent of the governed.

The opt out movement is the only way that the public can makes its voice heard. It is indeed a powerful voice. Now, when people who are disgusted with the corporate reform ask, “What can I do? I feel powerless,” there is an answer. Don’t let your child take the tests. Don’t feed the machine. Don’t give them the data that makes the machine hum. Contrary to their claims, the testing does not help children; it does not improve instruction. There is no value to these tests other than to rank and rate children, grade their teachers and their schools, and set them up for firings or closings.

The LOHUD editorial says:

The stunning success of the test-refusal movement in New York is a vote of no confidence in our state educational leadership.

Even as the numbers showed clear dissatisfaction with the path and pace of education “reform” in New York, Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch downplayed the opt-out movement, and painted parents as confused patsies of a labor action, a misreading of the facts.

The Board of Regents sets educational policy for our state. The board needs a strong leader who is willing to guide education policy, communicate the mission clearly and stand up to meddling politicians. Merryl Tisch should cede leadership of the board and allow a fresh start for the board, and for education policy in New York.

We do not take this position lightly. Tisch is a dedicated public servant who has used her family’s influence to do immeasurable good. She has promoted New York’s “reform” agenda because she believes it is the right thing to do, particularly to help children in urban schools.

But our state leadership has failed to sell its brand of change, and the fallout has been dramatic and potentially debiliating to the entire system. The arrogance of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, former Education Commissioner John King and, yes, Tisch, has alienated too many parents and educators. The people who are responsible for educating our children each day – classroom teachers, principals, administrators, school board members – have railed for years against state policies that drive up local costs but fail to improve instruction…..

It is a sad state of affairs when many committed, accomplished educators now believe that Albany’s true goal is “privatization” – or proving their contention that New York’s schools and teachers are failing so that more tax dollars can be driven to charter schools and mega-corporation, Pearson Inc. Are such conspiracy theories true? We doubt it. But mainstream acceptance shows state education leaders’ failure to communicate what they are trying to do. And blame for that lands squarely at the feet of the head of the Board of Regents, Tisch.

Mercedes Schneider has been reading the Senate bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (also known as No Child Left Behind). She has been reading it line by line. This is the fourth of five installments.

 

Mercedes finds that the statutory language is extremely supportive of “public” charter schools, which are public when they want the money but not “public” when it is time for an audit or accountability. The bill makes a few suggestions of reform, but none is strong enough to rein in the scandals that clutter the charter industry. If anything, the embrace of privately managed charters by Democrats shows the party’s abandonment of public education. We expect Republicans to advocate for school choice, but now Democrats are on the same side.

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