Archives for the month of: May, 2012

Vermont decided not to apply for a waiver from NCLB.

Not because it loves NCLB. No one does.

But because Vermont education officials had their own ideas about how to help their schools.

And they discovered that Arne Duncan’s offer to give them “flexibility” was phony.

He did not want to hear Vermont’s ideas. Contrary to his claims, the waivers do not offer flexibility.

What Arne Duncan wants states to do is to agree to his own demands, not to shape their own destiny.

He wants them to allow more privately managed charters. He wants them to evaluate teachers by student test scores. He wants them to adopt Common Core state standards.  He wants them to agree to threaten and close down schools with low test scores. He has a laundry list of what he wants them to do.

Of course, this is all very puzzling since none of Arne Duncan’s mandates have a solid basis in research or evidence. In that regard, they are not much different from NCLB. You might say they represent NCLB without the timetable.

Even more puzzling is the assumption that Arne Duncan and the U.S. Department of Education know how to reform the schools of the nation. It is not as if anyone would look at Arne Duncan’s Chicago as a model for the nation. That district is once again being “reformed,” this time by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

And from a strictly Constitutional point of view, the U.S. Department of Education has never been empowered to tell schools and school districts how to reform themselves.

Quite candidly, there is no one at the U.S. Department of Education who is competent to tell entire states how to reform their schools.

So, kudos to Vermont.

A state that said no to federal control, federal mandates, privatization, and other bad ideas.

As often, I add a footnote to the original post: Bruce Baker of Rutgers alerted me to a change in governance in Vermont. The legislature just passed a bill to have the state commissioner of education report to the governor. This opens the way for business community and privatizers to exert more influence. Privatizers like to eliminate input from parents and communities, making it easier for them to get what they want.

Vermonters: Don’t let it happen.

Stay outside the consensus.

Keep Vermont and Vermont parents and communities in charge of your schools.


As I was researching the story about the closing of Allan elementary school in Austin, which will be replaced in the fall by an IDEA charter school, I came across this story about the Gates compact.

What is the Gates compact? Austin was the 16th district to apply for $100,000 from the Gates Foundation to sign a compact with the charter schools, agreeing that charter schools and public schools would receive equal treatment. By signing the compact, a district then becomes eligible to win millions of funding from the Gates Foundation. But of course, it may never win anything more.

So what’s the deal? Charter schools win recognition and are treated henceforward as if they were public schools, entitled to equal funding. This legitimates their status. So, rather than being experimental, or even laboratories of innovation, their inroads are made permanent thanks to the generosity of Bill & Melinda Gates.

The Gates compact works sort of like Race to the Top. By competing for funding they may never win, the districts agree to commit millions of their own dollars to equalize funding for charter schools.

Meanwhile, the charter schools continue to pursue policies that skim the best students from the public schools and to take disproportionately small numbers of students who are English language learners and have special needs. The public schools are left with the most expensive students to educate, and the charters get equal funding. The charters have fewer regulations and get extra resources while the public schools get budget cuts and are daily rebuked that they are failing, failing, failing.

The Gates compact cements the gains of privatization.

Worse, it persuades the leaders of the  public schools to endorse a plan that undermines the future of public education.

How embarrassing that so many public education leaders call press conferences to acknowledge what they have done when they should be embarrassed.


This is what it looks like when a school dies.Read here.

The Austin school board–at the urging of the district superintendent Meria Carstarphen–decided to hand over Allan elementary school to a charter chain called IDEA. She said that IDEA had the formula to raise the academic achievement of the children in that school.

The new charter is supposed to enroll 600 students. Only 77 of the children who previously attended Allan will attend the new charter school. Most people would consider that a vote of no-confidence in the charter, the superintendent who was their advocate, and the school board that acted against the wishes of the local community.

How can the charter raise the academic achievement of the children in the school when nearly 90% of them are not enrolled there any more?

The Austin superintendent of schools was very determined to bring IDEA into the district, despite opposition from parents and the local community.

One researcher, Ed Fuller, challenged IDEA’s record and found himself under attack as a researcher for doing so.

And now teachers are stripping their classrooms, and the librarians are getting rid of the books because the charter doesn’t want them.

And that is what it looks like when a school dies.


If you are a reader of this blog, you saw earlier posts about the close connection between David Coleman, the architect of the Common Core standards, and Michelle Rhee. Stephen Sawchuk of Education Week confirms this here.

I learned from Ken Libby–a graduate student at the University of Colorado who likes to read IRS filings by advocacy organizations–that Rhee’s Students First has a board of directors; that David Coleman is the treasurer  of her board of directors; and that the other two members of her board are employees of David Coleman’s organization Student Achievement Partners (one of the two wrote the new CC math standards). To those who ask Coleman why he is on Rhee’s board, he responds that his term ends in June. That is non-responsive.

What outsiders really want to know is whether he shares her agenda and whether he rejects any part of it.

Rhee is a lightning rod. She has advocated for policies that will remove all job protections from teachers. She has supported rightwing governors who want to destroy teacher unions. She advocates for charters and vouchers. She has accepted millions of dollars from known and unknown sources to promote privatization. She has spent millions of dollars to support candidates–usually from the far right–who agree with her views. She treats test scores as the sine qua non of education. She is a darling of the far right.

There is something unsavory about the close alliance between Rhee and the man who drafted the nation’s standards.

The public has a right to know.


Education Week recently published a series of articles about the new “advocacy” groups that are reshaping education policy.

The series is well worth reading. But do so, I suggest, by first reading Chapter 10 of my book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, as well as the update at the end of the paperback edition. Chapter 10 is called “The Billionaire Boys Club.” It is about the three biggest foundations in the education field: the Gates Foundation, the Walton Foundation, and the Broad Foundation. Over time, the funding priorities of these foundations have begun to converge around charters and teacher evaluation as the keys to school reform. Walton adds vouchers to the mix, but otherwise shares the agenda. The agenda looks amazingly like the Mitt Romney policy agenda, i.e., the Bush education agenda, the Milton Friedman choice agenda.

The new advocacy groups are not disparate. They are critics of public education. They think it is a failure. They are critics of teachers’ unions. They oppose seniority and tenure. In fact, they don’t think teachers should have any job protections whatever. They think teachers are paid too much. They take test scores as the ultimate measure of education quality. They don’t question the validity or reliability of standardized tests. They think that high test scores equals high achievement. They don’t like local school boards because they slow down the rush to charters.

What do they favor? They favor charters. Some, not all, favor vouchers. They favor privatization. They favor the removal of teacher certification. They want teachers’ compensation tied to student test scores. They favor merit pay. They favor firing teachers whose students don’t get higher scores. They favor closing schools whose students get low scores. They favor No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. They like mayoral control. They have no objection to for-profit organizations taking over schools or providing online instruction.

The new advocacy organizations differ around the edges, but mostly they are pushing an agenda that will privatize public education and de-professionalize teaching.


When critics of teachers’ unions want to strike a blow against unions, they throw around something that they claim was said by the late Albert Shanker:

‘When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of children.’ ”

Albert Shanker was the brilliant and much-admired and very outspoken president of the American Federation of Teachers; he died in 1997.

Joel Klein, former NYC chancellor who now sells education technology for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, quoted this line in an article in The Atlantic Monthly, and Mitt Romney quoted it when he unveiled his education policy package.

The problem is that no one knows for sure if Albert Shanker actually said these words.

Various efforts to trace the origins of this line have failed to discover whether Shanker ever said it.

It appeared in a small newspaper in Mississippi. Rightwing outlets love to cite it.

But no one can authenticate that Albert Shanker ever said it.

So we can expect that rightwing opponents of teachers’ right to bargain collectively will continue to cite this as fact rather than fancy.

As it happened, I knew Al Shanker very well. The best representation of his beliefs was the sign that New York City teachers carried when they protested or went on strike: “Teachers Want What Children Need.”

Next time someone rails against the unions, remember that teachers’ working conditions are children’s learning conditions.


Last year, the conservative Republican governor of Michigan Rick Snyder and the Republican-dominated legislature passed legislation strengthening the governor’s power to take over financially troubled municipalities and school districts. Michigan has had emergency manager legislation since 1990, but the 2011 law, Public Act 4, gave the governor additional powers to suspend democracy.

Democratic groups are now challenging Public Act 4, which enhanced the ease with which Governor Snyder could suspend democracy by replacing elected officials with an emergency manager. When opponents of the law presented 226,000 signatures on petitions to put Public Act 4 on the ballot and get a public referendum, the state board charged with making a decision split along partisan lines. As matters now stand, the petitions were rejected because they were presented in the wrong font size!

Donald Weatherspoon, the emergency manager in Muskegon Heights, a small district of 1,400 students, has decided to turn its three schools over to a charter company. He fired all 158 teachers and told them they could re-apply for their jobs. He is essentially dissolving the school district and handing it off to a private corporation to manage. Apparently there will be a school board, which he will name.

Weatherspoon decided that public education is the problem. By turning the schools into a charter district or three charter schools–whatever the private corporation wants–he will solve some unspecified problem.

One problem that will not be solved is the district’s debt of $12-14 million. The debt remains with the defunct district, not the new charter management.

And of course, Weatherspoon will choose the charter management.

Thus, the privatization and destruction of public education move forward in one tiny district. Next in line: Detroit.


According to the latest reports, the emergency manager in Muskegon Heights, Michigan, proposes to kill off public education and replace the public schools with charter schools. The reason for this is that Muskegon Heights has a debt of $12 million. So the emergency manager figures that it is best to replace all the public schools with privately managed schools.

This looks like bankruptcy. After the public schools are closed, the new charters will have private management.

Now, if you accept the fact that the overwhelming majority of studies show that charter schools do not provide better education or even better test scores than public schools, then it is inescapable that this move has nothing to do with the best interests of the children.

If you accept the fact that the debt remains and must be paid by the taxpayers of Muskegon Heights.

Then what exactly is the reason for closing down public education in Muskegon Heights?

Is it about abrogating the contracts of unionized workers and making them all at-will? How will that save millions of dollars?

Can anyone explain?


In Sunday’s New York Times, celebrated columnist Thomas Friedman wrote that he had “a recent discussion in Seattle with a group of educators.” One of them surprised him by saying that “even though their state did not win President Obama’ education ‘Race to the Top,’ that program was critical in spurring educational reform in Washington State.” This persuaded Friedman that Obama is not doing enough to call attention to his successful policies.

I found myself wondering which group of educators he met with. Perhaps it was educators who work for the Gates Foundation?

I was in Seattle twice this past year. Last November, I spoke to the Washington State School Directors Association (the state’s school boards), the Washington Education Association, and the Seattle Education Association. I had small group meetings with teachers, administrators and school board members. No one–not one person–said what Friedman heard.

I wish he had been more specific in describing what happened in Washington state because of Race to the Top.

Does Friedman know that Washington State is one of the few states that has consistently opposed charters?

I wish he had been with me when I spoke to Washington educators. Something tells me they were not teachers or administrators or school board members.


A reader sent me this quote from John Adams. I can’t verify it.

Does anyone have the original source?

“The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.”— John Adams 1785