Archives for the month of: December, 2014

A reader responded to an earlier post about the likely closing of two more charter schools in Albany associated with the Brighter Choice Foundation. The Brighter Choice charters were once called “the holy grail” of school reform by conservative admirers. The reader left a comment describing her experience in one of the Brighter Choice charter schools (BCCS) in Albany that closed:



She writes:



As a former employee of one of the BCCS that closed, I have to say that there are positives and negatives to charters. I have worked in both district and charter schools so I could compare. Behavior wise, I found the charter schools equal to the district schools. However, the charter schools lacked the resources to manage many of the behavior problems. Due to needing to keep enrollment numbers up, children were not expelled and continued to behave poorly (walking out of class, yelling at teachers, etc.). The BCCS I was in really cared about the children and there was a family-like atmosphere. However, many of the students did not perform well academically due to several factors. 1) Many of the students entered the school below grade level academically. Even improvements would not have been enough to be proficient on the state exam. 2) not sure about other schools, but our school had very little parent involvement despite outreach from the school, 3) behavior issues impacted the ability to learn, 4) middle schools are much different with elementary. A lot more outside factors impact in-school learning.


Although I think it is good to have alternative school choices, I do not approve of spending tax dollars to fund multiple schools that are all performing the same.






We have all wrestled at one time or another with the deceptive rhetoric of “reformers.” They seem to have a common phrase book, written by PR whizzes, in which they have co-opted terms like “reform,” “great teachers,” “innovation,” “personalized,” and to have created terms like “a child’s zip code should not be his/her destiny,” a sentiment with which no one can disagree. Their solutions, typically, consist of privatizing public schools by handing public dollars over to private corporations to do the work of government, and dismantling the teaching profession by lowering standards for entry to young people without any professional preparation, eliminating due process, eliminating extra pay for additional degrees, and seeking to eliminate extra pay for experience. No reform movement in the past ever had this agenda. Reformers in the past wanted public schools to get better, not to replace them with privately managed schools or schools operated for profit. Reformers in the past wanted teachers to have better preparation, not to take away certification requirements. Reformers were not union-busters.


Education writer Steve Hinnefeld, on his blog, writes about the way the so-called reformers have corrupted the English language. I agree with him, and we see it all the time, such as when a pro-charter group calls itself “Save Our Public Schools” and circulates a petition to replace public schools with privately managed charters. However, I disagree with Steve on two of his definitions. I can’t think of a better term than corporate reformers, to demonstrate that their assumptions come from the corporate world, such as their belief in data, data-driven decision-making, standardization, incentives, and sanctions. Other people use terms like “deformers,” but that is more of an insult than a label. If Steve has a better term than “corporate reform,” I want to hear it.


I also challenge the claim–perhaps he does as well–that charter schools are public schools. They get public money, but that does not make them public schools. Lockheed gets public money. So does almost every private university. Charters have sued in different states to prevent public audits, on the grounds that they are private corporations, not subject to public audit. They have been taken to court by workers for violating state labor laws; they said they were private corporations, not public schools. When you hear this defense again and again, it is persuasive. I am persuaded.


Meanwhile, I welcome any suggestions from Steve or others to create a name for those who are leading the charge for more charters and vouchers and who are eager to strip teachers of due process, collective bargaining, and reduce their benefits.


I would also welcome suggestions for the name of “our side.” We do not “defend the status quo.” The status quo is headed by Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, the Walton Family, Jeb Bush, Andrew Cuomo, and ALEC; it consists of high-stakes testing, privatization, and hostility to the teaching profession. We don’t like the status quo. We want better schooling for all children. We want the arts and history and physical education; we want experienced teachers; we want librarians, school nurses, guidance counselors, social workers, psychologists and after-school programs. Are we “the real reformers”? We fight for better education, for better schools, for high standards for entry into teaching, for respect for teachers and parents, and for kindness for children. What should we call ourselves?

Jeff Bryant of the Education Opportunity Network writes that the biggest story of 2014 is the explosion of charter school scandals.

He reviews some of the frauds and scams in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, D.C., and elsewhere. He might have added Chicago and many more places, like Arizona, where charter schools are not subject to laws about nepotism, self-dealing, or conflicts of interest that govern public schools.

The scandals continue: what’s new is media attention to them.

Susan DuFresne has written a moving post about her precarious life as a teacher in the Age of “Rephorm.” Read it and believe. This profession is worth fighting for. The rephormers write mandates and regulations, use their money to impose their will, but they wouldn’t last five minutes in a classroom. Teachers must reclaim their classrooms, reclaim their profession. They will not destroy it; they will not destroy us. They will lose because what they do hurts children, hurts our society.


Susan writes:


What will happen to us as teachers, parents, students, and democracy as we continue to struggle in our mandated race to the top of corporate education reform?


Home for winter break from my work as a teacher, I find myself too exhausted the first several days to take care of anyone but myself. When we get on a plane they tell us to make sure we put on our oxygen masks first, then take care of our family. Self-care supersedes care of others. You cannot care for others when you yourself cannot breathe.


As a teacher, we have little time for self-care. More often than not these days – we are holding our breath – waiting for the next data point we need to collect and record. We are entering the “death zone” – the death zone because we are slowly dying for lack of the fresh air of creativity, joy, and love. The lust for data has consumed the space to breathe, the space to feel safe in a hospitable environment, the space to take care of ourselves – or the millions of voiceless children.


As teachers, we are being exploited by the corporate reformers who profit from their failing experiments – and our families are left with nothing but ghosts of who we once were…..


It is only December, and yet I feel like a porter carrying the immoral weight of reformy slick packages – a porter who has trekked to the top of Mt. EdReform not given the resources we need to survive. Much like the Sherpa, I feel like I don’t have what I need to make the mandated trek to the top of Mt. EdReform, and what is left of my profession is becoming a data service industry that only benefits the companies getting rich. As the summit nears it doesn’t resemble anyplace suitable for human beings. I have more second thoughts about continuing my profession and feel closer to succumbing to burn-out than ever before.


From the movie, Beyond the Edge:


Above 26,000 feet is what we call the death zone…the death zone because you are slowly dying.
Just as the mountain above 26,000 feet is uninhabitable – classrooms in public schools across the country have become uninhabitable for human beings – teachers and students alike.


The climbers of 1953 spoke of how much effort it takes for each step forward, how confused their oxygen-starved brains became. When struggling to take the oppressive steps of corporate reform, I too feel I need to take 15 breaths to cover just one step of one of their new initiatives. I haven’t caught up with completing the last initiative, when a new one is presented, we’re asked to implement the new initiative in yet another lesson to teach, we’re asked to be observed teaching the new initiative while under scrutiny of more data points to collect, and then it is time to go off to another meeting about what evidence we need to collect for our next data meeting, then have another meeting to plan our next data meeting.


With each step further into the world of corporate reform, I become more confused about why I chose this profession and I recognize that a small part of me is dying slowly – as is a small part of each child. Where we once had art, music, creativity, joy, love, learning through play, and autonomy – many of us now have endless testing and data collection, data entry, data analysis, and meetings upon meetings about data.


The corporate reformers have sucked the life out of teaching and learning. The real purpose of education is lost in a blizzard of data – numbers entered onto a rubric to become bits of data – trillions of 0’s and 1’s about each child are flying at high speed, tracked and collecting in data banks like so many feet of snow to be mined for corporate profits – icy cold they create systems of punishment as dangerous crevices – an abyss of corporate created failure – a place devoid of all humanity for children and teachers to try to traverse. We can feel the heaviness of fear and oppression — and the sense of impending death — as we deepen our voyage into this uninhabitable space.

Last week, a judge handed the schools of York City, Pennsylvania, to a receiver, David Meckley, a businessman, to do with as he pleases. He has said he will turn the district over to a for-profit charter chain, Charter Schools, USA. There is still a glimmer of hope, as the school board is appealing the decision. 


The local newspaper published a terrific editorial. It asks questions that the judge never considered: What are the for-profit corporations plans for the children with special needs? How can anyone justify diverting money to “profit,” when the district is in dire financial need? Does the for-profit corporation actually have a plan for improvement? My questions: why isn’t the state responsible to assist districts whose property tax base cannot support public schools? How many more districts will be handed over to entrepreneurs? What is the purpose of public education? Does the voice of the community matter? Whatever happened to democracy?


This is what the local newspaper said:


Meckley, a Spring Garden Township businessman who has led the district’s financial recovery process for two years now, intends to convert all eight schools to charters operated by a for-profit company, Charter Schools USA.

Such a conversion has never been tried in Pennsylvania, and the company’s plan for York City appears half-baked.

For instance, in response to questions submitted by The York Dispatch, a company representative showed limited knowledge of the district’s student population and couldn’t even describe plans for the 21 percent of students with special needs.

The community clearly opposes the plan. Yet while they have no say in the matter, city property owners’ tax dollars now will be used not only for education but to boost the profits of Charter Schools USA.

Since the district is struggling financially, how can anyone justify diverting even a penny away from the students?

Unfortunately, Linebaugh, York County’s president judge, was not allowed to consider these or any other aspects of the charter conversions.

Mercedes Schneider, a high school teacher in Louisiana who holds a Ph.D. in research and statistics, here reviews Bill Gates on education. Although he never went to public school, never taught anywhere, never studied education, and dropped out of college, he is listened to with reverence when he talks about education. Why?

Why do people listen? Schneider explains. What is his vision of education for our children? Does it align with what he wants for his own children? How is he using his billions to redirect education? Is this what we need or want?

David Lentini of Maine writes in response to another reader on the purpose of schooling in a democratic society:



I like your idea. But I suspect that most states will have language similar to MO and ME. In fact, I would argue, that’s one of the major problems we have today—that we’ve forgotten the basic role of schools in maintaining our democracy, and we’ve become distracted with ideas of using the schools to prepare a “workforce” or create a social utopia (or both). The shift from the former to the latter was a hallmark of the Progressive Era.


Returning to the view that schools serve first to educate our children for their future roles as citizens, and not workers and consumers or “role players” in some social model, would greatly focus the curriculum on developing the intellectual faculties of the students and the attention of the parents.


Democracies require a commitment to three main qualities: equality, justice, and truth. Each of these is best supported by an education that emphasizes the development of observation, thinking, and expression. These in turn would require a focus on the arts, reading, and writing. In short, we would return to the philosophy that runs the very best private schools—the ones the élites like Bill Gates and Arne Duncan send their kids.


It would also require a commitment to end poverty, the single biggest factor in student achievement.


We would stop looking for magical solutions to avoid the poverty problem. We would stop using public education as a dumping ground for useless and superfluous technologies. We would finally grow up and stop looking for “Superman”. We would build our society on developing the most precious resources we have—our children’s intellects.

People across America are speaking truth to power, right now on Twitter, where they are tweeting in opposition to charter takeovers in Tennessee.

The BATs’ twitter storm using the hashtags #WeBelieve2015 and #beliefgap calling out Tennessee Achievement School District superintendent Chris Barbic and his privatization agenda has gotten the attention of The Tennessean Newspaper. They’ve posted an active link to the twitter discussion on their website.

Governor Cuomo is in an unusual position, vis-a-vis education. He has nothing to do with it, except for his power over the budget. He does not appoint the state Board of Regents (the State Assembly does). He does not appoint the State Commissioner of Education (the Board of Regents does). He is out of the loop. But in recent months, he has convinced himself that he is the state’s foremost expert on education. He thinks he knows how to “fix” education. He loves charter schools, as are his friends and contributors on Wall Street. He disdains public schools and is convinced that the state has a failing school system, not recognizing that academic results are closely correlated with the socioeconomics of each district. He loves standardized testing and especially high-stakes testing, where teachers and principals quake with fear when their evaluations are tied to test scores. Cuomo has made clear that the new evaluation system has not been tough enough; he wants one that identifies more “failing” teachers. He has promised to “break” the public-school “monopoly,” which others think of as an essential public service.


Gary Stern of speculates on what Cuomo will propose in his state of the state address. One thing seems sure: after the John King era, after the entry of Cuomo into the role of education maven, local control is dead in New York state.


Stern writes:


Now he wants to take on the whole education bureaucracy. But what goodies will Cuomo actually propose in his State of the State?


Will he try to change how Regents are selected, a move that Assembly Democrats would oppose? Would he dare propose a system of renewable tenure, which unions would fight? Might he propose a strategy for helping urban schools, other than threatening to close them? Or will he simply renew his interest in tougher teacher evaluations and charter schools?


One question Cuomo hasn’t asked is what educators on the ground think. More than likely, he’s going to tell them what to do.

A new group called “Women United 4 Public Education” asks the inevitable question in reality a war on women?

About 75% of those who work in public education are women. The corporate reformers want to reduce the number of teachers, replacing them with computers or with low-wage temps, both men and women, who won’t be around long enough to collect a pension and who are able to work 60-70 hour weeks, thinking of it as idealism rather than taking the job of veteran teachers.

There is no “reform” movement for police, firefighters, lawyers, doctors, or engineers. No legislatures are telling them how to do their work or meddling with their benefits.