New York magazine reports that activists are succeeding in persuading public pension funds to drop out of hedge fund investments.

The pension fund trustees have included that these investments are a bad risk. Their decision making was influenced by an activist group called the Hedge Clippers, which was created by the AFT to embarrass the hedge fund managers.

Part of the anger towards the hedge funds results from their heavy investment in Puerto Rico bonds and their public relations campaign to stop Congress from allowing Puerto Rico to get bankruptcy protection. Certain hedge funds bought Puerto Rico’s bonds at a deep discount and now hope to make billions by getting paid in full. They have been running slick commercials on television featuring a Puerto Rican woman who says she will lose her life savings if Congress allows Puerto Rico to find a solution other than paying the bondholders in full.

Paying the bondholders in full will mean bankrupting the Puerto Rican economy, closing its schools and social services, but paying the hedge funds the face value of the bonds they bought at a deep discount.

 

 

Just five days before New Yorkers went to the polls in bitterly contested presidential primaries defined by the widespread sense among voters that Wall Street is indeed “rigged,” the New York City Employees’ Retirement System, or NYCERS, where Garrido is a trustee, voted to pull its money out of all hedge funds. That amounts to about $1.5 billion, or 3 percent, of a $50 billion pension fund.

 

The perception that hedge funds are a raw deal for everyone but their fee-fattened managers has not only become mainstream with astonishing speed, it has begun to pose a threat to an industry that pretty recently seemed to be on top of the world. The move by the pension for the largest municipal employees union in the U.S., representing 100,000 New Yorkers, to get out of hedge funds is the latest sign that the near $3 trillion hedge-fund industry has peaked, with global assets now slightly lower than they were in 2014, as investor redemptions hit $15 billion after last year’s poor performance. NYCERS was following the lead of another bellwether entity, the $300 billion California Public Employees Retirement System, which exited hedge funds more than a year ago.

 

But NYCERS pulling its money out of hedge funds is perhaps best read as the biggest victory yet for a burgeoning anti-hedge-fund movement that is fueled by widespread anger at economic inequality and argues for divestment on a wide variety of grounds — most notably right now that prominent hedge funds are squeezing Puerto Rico for debt payments, even as the island spirals deeper into economic depression. At the forefront of that protest effort is a group called Hedge Clippers. About a year ago, the American Federation of Teachers created the organization in response to anti-union efforts and other conservative political actions by various hedge-fund titans. For months the group has been lobbying public pension funds — including NYCERS — to get out of the investment vehicles. Last November, Hedge Clippers published an AFT report showing that 11 big public pension funds that have invested in hedge funds would have done better elsewhere. New York City public advocate Tish James, a NYCERS trustee, gives some credit to Hedge Clippers for the decision to divest. The group’s arguments reached “the minds of a number of individuals who want to be conscious about our public investments,” she says, and likens its efforts to the 1980s campaign to pull money out of apartheid South Africa.

 

Following on the heels of New York’s move, Hedge Clippers met with Ohio public-pension-fund execs to make its case, and it plans to take its battle to college campuses next, where it hopes to win over liberal-leaning universities, which have invested a huge chunk of their endowments in hedge funds, including those run by the moguls who are their alumni. “We feel confident that more pension funds are going to divest,” says Stephen Lerner, a former organizer with the Service Employees International Union and one of the key architects of Hedge Clippers.

 
This all comes at a time when many hedge funds have experienced their worst year since the crash of 2008, following a string of disappointing ones. Last spring, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer (also a NYCERS trustee) released the devastating report that made Garrido so angry: He found that private equity, real-estate, and hedge-fund assets had cost the city’s pension system $2.6 billion in lost value over the prior ten years, in large part due to the hefty fees they charged. Then, in 2015, NYCERS’s hedge-fund portfolio lost 1.88 percent, lagging behind both the S&P 500 and key bond indexes.

 

The explosive growth of hedge funds — they had one-sixth as much money under management at the turn of the century as they do today — was fueled in no small part by public pensions like NYCERS handing them huge sums of money. Those billions helped transform what previously had been a boutique investment for the Über-rich into an institutional asset class where management fees of 2 percent of the money under management and 20 percent of the investment returns created a slew of hedge-fund billionaires. Even in years their funds lost money or barely broke even, some managers earned hundreds of millions off management fees alone. Castles sprouted up on the Connecticut shore. World-class art collections were assembled. Historic fortunes were made.

 

Financed largely by the AFT and a few philanthropic foundations, Hedge Clippers has quickly morphed into a coalition of more than a dozen labor, civil-rights, environmental, and progressive community groups expanding to ten states and Puerto Rico with a stated mission of “unmasking the dark money schemes and strategies that the billionaire elite uses to expand their wealth, consolidate power and obscure accountability for their misdeeds.” The group’s top dozen organizers work out of the offices of their respective organizations, primarily in Washington, D.C. and New York, mobilizing through a Google listserv. The group protests a variety of issues, some more comprehensible than others: They interrupted investment conferences in New York City, alternately demanding Starboard Value’s Jeff Smith institute a $15-per-hour minimum wage for his fast-food workers at the Olive Garden and blaming Larry Robbins of Glenview Capital for causing cancer by investing in Monsanto. Still, the group knows it’s riding the zeitgeist.

 

To some extent, the anti-hedge fund movement has its roots in Occupy Wall Street. Lerner, who has been a leading labor political strategist for decades and is now a fellow at Georgetown University, was also involved in that movement. He says the new, laserlike focus on hedge funds grew from seeing billionaires like GOP donors Paul Singer and Dan Loeb battle unions on public education and taxes. When Hedge Clippers shone a light on investments by billionaires Julian Robertson and Steve Cohen in drug company Gilead, which has priced a hepatitis-C-virus drug out of reach for many, that brought AIDS activists and civil-rights groups into the anti-hedge-fund cause.

 

In New York state, the anti-hedge-fund activists have also hooked up with a group called “Patriotic Millionaires” — which includes some hedge-fund and private-equity managers — in an effort to kill a tax break that allows these managers to pay a lower tax rate on income they earn from managing other people’s money. A bill to abolish the so-called “carried interest” loophole is currently working its way through the New York Senate.

 

To be sure, hedge funds aren’t going away. The biggest fund, $104 billion Westport, Connecticut–based Bridgewater Associates, which runs an opaque black-box strategy, grew 16 percent last year despite lackluster returns, according to a recent survey by data provider Hedge Fund Intelligence. Funds that are $5 billion or greater in size continue to dominate the industry, and those tend to have fee structures that allow them to survive sizeable redemptions. Moreover, the decade-long boom has made it possible for many hedge-fund billionaires to keep the doors open with just their own wealth if it comes down to that.

 

But the industry can’t ignore the winds of change. “The pressure on institutional investors to reduce, or abandon, their exposure to hedge funds is growing,” placing the industry at a “tipping point,” says HFI managing editor Nick Evans. Hedge funds will have to deliver results for investors that are not achievable elsewhere to justify their high fees, he says. Between 1990 and 2000, hedge funds had average annualized returns of almost 20 percent, but those days are long gone. “Out of maybe 10,000 hedge funds, only 1 percent are worth their fees on a net basis,” says Michael Hennessy, managing director of Morgan Creek Capital Management, which invests in hedge funds. “There are a lot who are not worthy and should go away.”

 
To survive, hedge funds will also have to confront the new political reality that has taken hold, as their politics and their investments become more closely scrutinized, thanks in no small part to Hedge Clippers. Nowhere is this clearer than in the case of NYCERS, whose divestment was partly motivated by its hedge funds’ role in the Puerto Rican debt disaster that is still unfolding. Last year, the pension fund learned that at least three of the hedge funds in its portfolio (D.E. Shaw, Brigade Capital Management, and Fir Tree Partners) were among the many that own about 30 percent of Puerto Rico’s outstanding debt. Hedge funds bought into a $3.5 billion junk bond offering in 2014 and swooped in to buy more as prices sank last year.

 

When Puerto Rico said it might default on its $72 billion debt last summer, Hedge Clippers hammered on the hedge fund connection and staged a protest in front of the office of one of the biggest hedge-fund owners of the debt, BlueMountain Capital. The crisis hit home for the NYCERS retirees as hedge funds pushed Puerto Rico to cut public services and lay off government workers to avoid default. Thousands of those workers are members of AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) — the same union that represents NYCERS retirees.

 

Puerto Rico, now facing a 45 percent unemployment rate, has since devolved into a humanitarian crisis, with power outages and shuttered hospitals as the Island Commonwealth has been unable to push bankruptcy legislation or debt relief through the U.S. Congress. Instead, the bondholders have launched a massive lobbying and advertising campaign accusing Puerto Rico of profligacy and demanding it pay up. The developments nudged NYCERS toward pulling its money. “A significant number of NYCERS retirees are Puerto Rican, and if they were to know we were investing in hedge funds that had a [negative] financial impact on Puerto Rico, they would support the divesting from those hedge funds,” says Tish James.
Last November NYCERS appealed to the hedge funds to help solve the Puerto Rican crisis. When that failed, trustee Garrido — who had previously complained that hedge funds’ high fees combined with lousy returns were a “rigged system” — went on the attack at a December 3 press conference on Capitol Hill. As Latino political activists pressed Congress for help, he criticized hedge funds for profiting from the economic crisis while demanding austerity policies that hurt the island’s working class. Four months later, NYCERS voted to dump its hedge-fund investments.

 

 

Does our society value teachers? By objective evidence, you may say no. After all, teachers are not paid as well as lawyers or doctors. And we can’t ignore the fact that quite a few legislatures have passed laws to remove teachers’ due process rights or to tie teacher pay to student test scores. Indeed, the Obama administration has forced this noxious idea on most states as a condition of getting Race to the Top funding.

 

Consequently, many teachers suffered the humiliation of getting a rating based on student scores,then seeing their rating posted in public. That happened in Los Angeles, and one teacher–Rigoberto Ruelas–committed suicide. That happened in Néw York City, at the in sustenance of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, and the teacher with the city’s worst rating was featured on the front page of Mr. Murdoch’s tabloid. But as it turned out, the “worst teacher” was a very fine teacher of immigrant students who cycled in and out of her class all year. And, sadly, Arne Duncan praised the act of creating and published these lists of teacher ratings.

 

We can be grateful that Race to the Top is defunct, but its worst effects linger on. The charter industry expanded at the behest of RTTT, leaving behind a voracious sector that absorbs limited education dollars but evades accountability or transparency.

 

Evaluation by test scores has been debunked time and again, yet it continues because the state laws are still on the books. And many states continue to pursue ways of limiting teacher pay, increasing class size, or otherwise manipulating the conditions of teaching without improving them.

 

What does it mean to appreciate teachers? It means respecting their professionalism. It means turning to teachers as experts on their work, not to people who study teaching or think about teaching.

 

John Ewing, who heads Math for America, makes this point in this good article. He writes about the many times he participates in conferences about how to improve teaching, but no teachers are I cited to participate. He counts the number of times major journalists write articles about teaching and schools but never interview a teacher. How many teachers were included on the panel that wrote the Common Core? The typical news story about education includes quotes from the same think tank experts, even though few have ever taught.

 

Ewing writes:

 

“When it comes to talking or writing about education, we do not view teachers as experts. We do not trust them as professionals. Can you imagine an engineering conference without engineers as speakers? Can you imagine a science article with no input from scientists? Or a report on some breakthrough in medicine without a quote from a doctor? We treat the profession of teaching differently from all others.

 

“The teaching profession needs two things in order to thrive—respect and trust. The two go together. You can say nice words and be grateful to teachers, but if you do not trust them as professionals, you are not showing them respect. Trust means giving teachers (appropriate) autonomy in their classrooms, but it also means giving them influence over policy—real influence, not a few token teachers on some committee—and it means giving them control over their own professional growth. We need to stop fixing teachers and create environments in which teachers themselves fix their own profession. We need to trust them to do so.”

 

EduShyster interviews Joanne Golann, a doctoral student and researcher in sociology at Princeton who spent 15 months in a no-excuses charter school, studying its culture. After participating daily in the life of the school, interviewing students, teachers, and administrators. She notes that the no-excuses charter is a model of strict obedience and conformity that is widespread and focused on test scores. Teachers impose the model because it assures them control. If they let go, chaos might ensue. They can’t take that risk.

 

EduShyster asked Golann to sum up her findings, and she said:

 

“I found that in trying to prepare students for college, the school failed to teach students the skills and behaviors to help them succeed in college. In a tightly regulated environment, students learned to monitor themselves, hold back their opinions, and defer to authority. These are very different skills than the ones middle-class kids learn—to take initiative, be assertive, and negotiate with authority. Colleges expect students to take charge of their learning and to advocate for themselves. One of the students I talk about in the article learned to restrain herself to get through, to hold herself back and not speak her mind. She ended up winning the most-improved student award in 8th grade for her changed behavior…,

 

 

“If we create an educational marketplace where success is measured by student test scores, perhaps it is not altogether surprising that we end up with a rigid school model that produces these test scores. What we don’t get is a model that teaches students how to speak up or even a model that leaves students feeling like they have had a positive school experience. While charter schools were originally seen as a way to innovate, a way for communities to develop schools that might better fit their students and families, what’s come to dominate the charter field are charter management organizations and this no-excuses model. For example, in Boston, one study found that 71% of the urban charter schools subscribe to the no-excuses model. Of the high-achieving urban charters, almost all are no-excuses schools. They’ve expanded rapidly because of the support of foundations and the US Department of Education. Some $500 million in private foundation money has gone into replicating these schools….

 

EduShyster ended the interview by quoting the last line of Golann’s paper:

 

 

“EduShyster: The last line of your paper is really powerful. In fact, I’d like to take this opportunity to read it aloud so that we can all go forth pondering the essential point you make. *If teachers and administrators committed as much effort to learning about students’ families and neighborhoods as they dedicate to raising test scores or managing behavior, they might discover new ways of instruction and management to get kids to and through college, and perhaps more importantly, prepare them to ‘be the change,’ as one Dream Academy leader described.”

 

 

Our reader Christine Langhoff writes about the current crisis in public education in Boston:

To use the common idiom, Boston is “woke”!

Parents, teachers and allies of public education protested on a frigid January night outside the mayor’s State of the City address. A few days earlier, 350 teachers, parents and students attended an informational town hall during the evening, as the issues of the hidden McKinsey report were publicly aired. There was another rally on February 17, during school vacation week.

Some 3400 students walked out of their classes on March 7 and went to City Hall and the State House to demonstrate after rallying on Boston Common. Some of them testified at the State House against the lifting of the charter cap. This was a student led and organized protest, which the mayor tried to dismiss with the classic “outside agitators” line. On March 17th, a group of parents, following the students’ lead, demonstrated outside City Hall, demanding the release of the report.

There have been a series of public hearings on the city’s budget, all of which are very well attended. A coalition of parents, educators and students are all on the same side of this argument, and though progress has been slow, we are not discouraged. Up next is walk-in day on May 7.

Much of this is organized on social media. In addition to the parents’ group QUEST, BEJA, Boston Education Justice Alliance http://bostonedjustice.org and the student groups YOUNG and BSAC http://www.youthonboard.org as well as Citizens for Public Schools are working together to keep our schools. The Boston Teachers Union has taken a page from our fellow unionists at the Chicago Teachers Union, allying with and supporting all these groups.

The question that has not been answered is why cuts to the budget, decreasing services to our SWD, and diminishment of offerings for students (closing high school libraries!) is necessary. Boston is in the midst of an unprecedented building and real estate boom; tax receipts are up by $95 million this year alone. (Massachusetts weathered the 2008 catastrophe pretty well.) We’re ranked number one (for what it’s worth) in urban school systems. What pretext is there for closing 30-50 schools? None.

But here’s the scenario we’re up against:

No elected school board, appointed by the mayor (since 1993)

The mayor founded a charter school

The superintendent is a Broadie

More parasites from TFA, TNTP, StudentsFirst are being hired at the school department

86% of our students aren’t white; most of them are poor and nearly half have English as a second language.

The governor wants more charters

The state board of ed is appointed by the governor

The state board is a cabal of privatizers from HGSE, the Pioneer Institute, New Schools Venture Fund

The former PARCC chairman is the state Commissioner

Walton is pouring money into the city

DFER sponsored successful candidates in the most recent election

Boston is a signatory to the Gates CRPE contract

The mayor and superintendent want One Enrollment

It’s an uphill battle and we can’t afford to lose.

Listen up, friends! Your own school district might hire McKinsey or Boston Consulting Group, and you need to know that they have a template for “right-sizing” the district. The template has nothing to do with improving education. It is all about cutting costs.

 

Fortunately for us, Peter Greene has read the 200-page document prepared for the Boston Oublic School district by McKinsey. Here are the highlights:

 

Close 30-40 public schools.

 

Cut back or eliminate special education by putting more (all?) students in inclusion classes.

 

Save on transportation costs by having children walk greater distances to catch a bus.

 

Increase revenues by having more students eat school food.

 

Centralize school lunches so everything is cooked in one place and delivered to schools.

 

Slash central office staff.

 

Outsource as many functions as possible. (This usually causes costs to rise, since private companies that win contracts have to show a profit.)

 

Here’s a thought. How about if a committee of educators get a $1 million contract to study the operations of McKinsey and suggest ways to save money. No more expense accounts.cNo more private offices. Share secretaries. Cut salaries to match teacher salaries. There must be many more ways to economize at McKinsey.

 

 

 

 

 

Gary Rubinstein has been watching Tennessee’s “Achievement School District” since it started. The original promise was that the ASD would gather the lowest performing schools in the state–from the bottom 5%–and lift them to the top 25% in the state in five years. They are nowhere near that goal.

 

The state data was recently released, and it showed that five of the six schools in the first cohort are still in the bottom 5%. The sixth school is in the bottom 7%.

 

This matters a lot because several states are now planning to create similar districts, based on the model of Tennessee’s ASD. The planning is underway in Georgia, North Carolina, and Nevada. There may be more.

 

The basic idea is that the state takes control of low-performing schools away from local districts,then hands them over to charter operators. The charters work their magic, and the schools are supposed to be transformed. But after four years, it hasn’t happened in Tennessee. Since Tennessee canceled its state tests this year due to technical problems, there won’t be a fifth year score.

 

When Chalkbeat reported this story recently, it said:

 

“The lowest 5 percent is still dominated by schools in Memphis and Nashville. Of the 84 worst-performing schools in Tennessee, nearly all are operated through Shelby County Schools, the ASD and Metro Nashville Public Schools. Chattanooga has six, Knoxville four, and Jackson two. Districts in Sevier and Fayette counties, which are primarily rural, have schools that are on a state list for the first time. As has been the case in the past, the bottom 5 percent schools are almost exclusively in low-income communities of color….

 

Rubinstein says this story never got the attention it deserved, and he is right. Other states would be foolish to copy this failed experiment.

 

 

 

Who knew that the 1% were so sensitive to criticism?

 

This evening the Wall Street Journal published an article called “The Union War on Charter School Philanthropists.” In the eyes of the WSJ, charter schools are a blessing, and we should all be grateful to the wealthy philanthropists who help them multiply. And of course, the WSJ can’t imagine that anyone would oppose a private takeover of public schools except teachers’ unions.

 

The WSJ can’t admit that charters get high test scores by excluding students with disabilities, English language learners, and low-scoring students. Their secret sauce: attrition, exclusion, test-prep, robotic discipline. What the WSJ loves about charters is that more than 90% are non-union.

 

Here is is what the article says:

 

 

OPINION COMMENTARY

 
The Union War on Charter-School Philanthropists

 
The wealthy are giving millions to fix education, but their gifts draw fire from a predictable source.

 

 

By NINA REES

 
May 1, 2016 5:43 p.m.

 
If you heard that a group of philanthropists came together to donate millions of dollars to schools, you would probably consider it good news. Indeed, thousands of underprivileged kids will be helped by the $35 million raised for Success Academy charter schools at a charity gala earlier this month. But teachers unions detect a nefarious purpose.

 

This $35 million donation was “part of a coordinated national effort to decimate public schooling,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, wrote in an April 13 article at the Huffington Post. “Wealthy donors and their political allies,” she warned, are “pushing unaccountable charter growth in urban centers while stripping communities of a voice in their children’s education.”

 

Regardless of the political attacks, politicians and philanthropists must remain committed. Charter schools serve many underprivileged students: 56% are on free or reduced lunch and 65% are minorities, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Because they are run independently of school districts and city bureaucracies, they have the flexibility to be innovative in the choices they offer to parents, providing services like extended-learning schedules and language immersion.

 

Charter schools are also closing achievement gaps. At Success Academy schools in New York, three-quarters of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch and nearly all are minorities. In 2015, 68% of students scored proficient in reading and 93% ranked proficient in math. For contrast, only 35% of New York City students overall scored proficient in math. Their reading abilities were even worse.

 

This success translates to broad-based support. About two-thirds of public-school parents favor charter schools, according to a 2015 Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll. Support is especially high among low-income parents, according to a March survey commissioned by the organization I lead. Some 88% of parents who earn less than $50,000 a year would like to see more charter schools in their communities.

 

Union leaders haven’t always been adamantly anti-charter. Ms. Weingarten’s former boss and mentor Al Shanker is actually credited with proposing charter schools. Sharing his vision in a 1988 speech, he said, “There is a role in all this for the federal government, state government, the local government, the business community, and foundations.”

 

Today, 25 years after Minnesota passed the first charter-school law, nearly three million students attend about 7,000 charter schools in 43 states and the District of Columbia. Yet over one million students remain on charter waiting lists, meaning that additional schools can’t come soon enough. And because charters nationwide receive, on average, 72 cents for every dollar that district-run schools do, philanthropy is vital to expansion.

 

Philanthropists have always contributed to their alma maters and other civic institutions, but opportunities to support public education have been limited. Donors want their contributions to have measurable results, and few successful businesspeople would voluntarily send money to poorly performing district bureaucracies. Mark Zuckerberglearned this lesson the hard way when much of his $100 million gift to public schools in Newark, N.J., was frittered away.

 

Charter schools have changed the equation for wealthy donors aiming to improve education. In Los Angeles billionaire Eli Broad is backing an effort to raise $490 million to create 260 new charter schools for more than 130,000 students.

 

Yet entrenched interests seem more concerned about explaining away the failures of public schools than supporting innovative ways to help students learn. In Louisiana, Gov.John Bel Edwards threatened to severely limit the ability of the state board of education to authorize charter schools rejected by local school boards. This appeal role of the state board is important because it ensures that quality charter schools can open even if local politics prevent approval. Gov. Edwards’s proposal was defeated in the state legislature, but the episode demonstrated how a single official could jeopardize years of progress. New Orleans’s all-charter district has been catching up with the rest of the state and hasraised graduation rates by 10 percentage points over the past decade.

 

In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker is fighting to lift an arbitrary cap that limits the state to 72 charter schools. The Massachusetts Teachers Association is spending millions to keep the caps in place. This despite Boston charter-school students gaining 170 days of extra learning in reading and 233 days in math, compared with regular students, according to a report by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes.

 

Charter schools put high-quality education within reach of students without regard for family incomes. Policy makers and philanthropists should pay close attention to how these schools are revamping communities and attracting philanthropic investment to some of the neediest neighborhoods. Charters have the potential to revolutionize American education—but they will need support to do so.

 

Ms. Rees is president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Reader Alice responds to the court victory of VirginiaSGP, who succeeded by lawsuit in getting the ratings of Virginia teachers released and plans to post them on his Facebook page. VirginiaSGP is Brian Davison, apparently an engineer, who believes that these test-based ratings are true measures of teachers’ worth.

 

Alice comments:

 

“While I obviously cannot psychoanalyze Brian, I recognizer a lot of a STEM ego in Brian’s diatribes. As a recovering STEM- a-phile, I recognize the inability to recognize that not everything that matters can be numerically measured.

 

“Dealing with humans rather than machines, or in my case, neutrons, is very different and more complicated. Neutrons follow the laws of quantum physics. Neutrons make no decisions. They are consistent. Humans follow no laws of the physical world. Humans make decisions every moment of every day and those decisions are based on a myriad of factors that are not limited to whether they have eaten that day or gotten enough sleep. None of those factors can be measured and put into a VAM or SGP model.

 

“Coupled with the STEM ego is a denigration and misunderstanding of social science research. I have done both types of research. STEM research is cleaner. It is elegant and mathematically beautiful. This is the Gates MET study that Brian consistently quotes. Social science research is messy and depends highly on the assumptions made and the model used because all of these focus on a different aspect of humanity. It cannot be anything else and be of any use to educators. But it looks less “rigorous” than STEM research. But those of us in the field know the rigor.”

 

[Note from Diane: Since I forgot to add the link to the article, I am reposting this now.]

 

 

Richard Phelps is a testing expert who is skeptical about the Common Core standards. He thinks that policymakers swallowed the sales pitch without asking for evidence. As he explains in this article, what rankles him is that the Education Writers Association has become part of the campaign to promote the Common Core. Instead of providing unbiased information, the EWA offers a platform for CC advocates, many of them paid to be advocates.

 

EWA will meet in Boston this weekend. The keynote speaker is Secretary of Education John King, a strong supporter of CC. As usual, the panels will consist of CC advocates, with very few critics.

 

Phelps writes:

 

“Too many of our country’s most influential journalists accept and repeat verbatim the advertising slogans and talking points of Common Core promoters. Too many of their stories source information from only one side of the issue. Most annoying, for those of us eager for some journalistic balance, has been some journalists’ tendency to rely on Common Core promoters to identify the characteristics and explain the motives of Common Core opponents.

 

“An organization claiming to represent and support all US education journalists sets up shop in Boston next week for its annual “National Seminar”. The Education Writers Association’s (EWA’s) national seminars introduce thousands of journalists to sources of information and expertise. Many sessions feature journalists talking with other journalists. Some sessions host teachers, students, or administrators in “reports from the front lines” type panel discussions. But, the remaining and most ballyhooed sessions feature non-journalist experts on education policy fronting panels with, typically, a journalist or two hosting. Allegedly, these sessions interpret “all the research”, and deliver truth, from the smartest, most enlightened on earth.

 

“Given its central role, and the profession it represents, one would expect diligence from EWA in representing all sides and evidence. Indeed, EWA claims a central purpose “to help journalists get the story right.”

 

“Rummaging around EWA’s web site can be revealing. I located the website material classified under their “Common Core” heading: 192 entries overall, including 6 EWA Radio broadcast transcripts, links to 19 research or policy reports, 69 posts in the “Educated Reporter” Blog, 1 “Story Lab”, 8 descriptions of and links to organizations useful for reporters to know, 5 seminar and 3 webinar agendas, 11 links to reporters’ stories, and 42 links to relevant multimedia presentations.

 

“I was interested to learn the who, what, where, and how of EWA sourcing of education research and policy expertise. In reviewing the mass of material the EWA classifies under Common Core, then, I removed that which was provided by reporters and ignored that which was obviously purely informational, provided it was unbiased (e.g., non-interpretive reporting of poll results, thorough listing of relevant legislative actions). What remains is a formidable mass of material—in the form of reports, testimonies, interviews, essays, seminar and webinar transcripts, and so on.

 

“So, whom does the EWA rely on for education policy expertise “to help journalists get the story right”? Which experts do they invite to their seminars and webinars? Whose reports and essays do they link to? Whose interviews do they link to or post? Remember, journalists are trained to represent all sides to each story, to summarize all the evidence available to the public.

 

“That’s not how it works at the Education Writers Association, however. Over the past several years, EWA has provided speaking and writing platforms for 102 avowed Common Core advocates, 7 avowed Common Core opponents, 12 who are mostly in favor, and one who is mostly opposed.[i] Randomly select an EWA Common Core “expert” from the EWA website, and the odds exceed ten to one the person will be an advocate and, more than likely, a paid promoter.

 

“Included among the 102 Common Core advocates for whom the EWA provided a platform to speak or write, are officials from the “core” Common Core organizations, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the National Governors Association (NGA), the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), and the Smarter-Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). Also included are representatives from research and advocacy organizations paid by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other funding sources to promote the Common Core Standards and tests: the Thomas P. Fordham Institute, the New America Foundation, the Center for American Progress, the Center on Education Policy, and the Business Roundtable. Moreover, one finds ample representation in EWA venues of organizations directly profiting from PARCC and SBAC test development activity, such as the Center for Assessment, WestEd, the Rand Corporation, and professors from the Universities of North Carolina and Illinois, Harvard and Stanford Universities, UCLA, Michigan State, and Southern Cal (USC).

 

“Most of the small contingent of Common Core opponents does not oppose the Common Core initiative, standards, or tests per se but rather tests in general, or the current quantity of tests. Among the seven attributions to avowed opponents, three are to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (a.k.a., FairTest), an organization that opposes all meaningful standards and assessments, not just Common Core.

 

“The seven opponents comprise one extreme advocacy group, a lieutenant governor, one local education administrator, an education graduate student, and another advocacy group called Defending the Early years, which argues that the grades K–2 Common Core Standards are age-inappropriate (i.e., too difficult). No think tank analysts. No professors. No celebrities.

 

“Presumably, this configuration of evidence and points of view represents reality as the leaders of EWA see it (or choose to see it):

 

“102 in favor and 7 opposed; several dozen PhDs from the nation’s most prestigious universities and think tanks in favor and 7 fringe elements opposed. Accept this as reality and pro-CCI propaganda characterizations of their opponents might seem reasonable. Those in favor of CCI are prestigious, knowledgeable, trustworthy authorities. Those opposed are narrow minded, self-interested, uninformed, inexpert, or afraid of “higher, deeper, tougher, more rigorous” standards and tests. Those in favor of CCI want progress; those opposed do not.

 

“In a dedicated website section, EWA describes and links to eight organizations purported to be good sources for stories on the Common Core. Among them are the core CCI organizations Achieve, CCSSO, NGA, PARCC, and SBAC; and the paid CC promoters, the Fordham Institute. The only opposing organization suggested? — FairTest.

 

“There remain two of the EWA’s favorite information sources, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) that I have categorized as mostly pro-CCI. Both received funding from the Gates Foundation early on to promote the Initiative. When the tide of public opinion began to turn against the Common Core, however, both organizations began shuffling their stance and straddling their initial positions. Each has since adopted the “Common Core is a great idea, but it has been poorly implemented” theme.

 

“So, what of the great multitude who desire genuinely higher standards and consequential tests and recognize that CCI brings neither? …who believe Common Core was never a good idea, never made any sense, and should be completely dismantled? Across several years, categories and types of EWA coverage, one finds barely a trace of representation.

 

“The representation of research and policy expertise at EWA national seminars reflects that at its website. Keynote speakers include major CCI advocates College Board President David Coleman (twice), US Education Secretary Arne Duncan (twice), Secretary John King, Governor Bill Haslam, and “mostly pro” AFT President Randi Weingarten, along with the unsure Governor Charlie Baker. No CCI opponents.

 

“Among other speakers presented as experts in CCI related sessions at the Nashville Seminar two years ago were 14 avowed CCI advocates[ii], one of the “mostly pro” variety, and one critic, local education administrator Carol Burris. At least ten of the 14 pro-CCI experts have worked directly in CCI-funded endeavors. Last year’s Chicago Seminar featured nine CCI advocates[iii] and one opponent, Robert Schaeffer of FairTest. Five of the nine advocates have worked directly in CCI-funded endeavors.

 

“In addition to Secretary John King’s keynote, this year’s Boston Seminar features a whopping 16 avowed CCI proponents, two of the “mostly pro” persuasion, and one opponent, Linda Hanson, a local area educator and union rep. At least ten of the 16 proponents have worked in CCI-funded activities.”

 

 

 

 

Arthur Goldstein is a 32-year veteran of the New York City public s hools. He teaches ESL classes in a large, comprehensive high school, one of the few that was not broken into small schools by the Bloomberg administrations.

In this article, he explains why he opposes the city’s new discipline policies. Teachers are not allowed to suspend students no matter what they have done without permission from central. That permission, he expects, will never come.

Goldstein explains that in his 32 years of teaching, he has only once suspended a student. But he needs to know that this last-resort tool is available to him. He hopes he will never use it, but he believes his authority is undermined when this last resort is removed.

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