Audrey Hill tells a fascinating story about Michael Johnston, the highly accomplished TFA alum from Colorado who was briefly a principal, then became a very influential state senator, and recently tried unsuccessfully to run for the Democratic nomination for governor. While Johnston was in the State Senate, he wrote a bill for evaluation of teachers, principals, and schools called SB 191 (2010), which tied evaluation firmly to test scores and was one of the most punitive in the nation. Standardized test scores count for 50% of overall evaluation. He pledged that his bill was historic and would produce “great teachers, great principals, and great schools.” Eight years later, it is clear that it had no effect other than to demoralize teachers (who are among the most underpaid in the nation. It did not produce great teachers, great principals, or great schools, yet Michael fought to keep it in place until he was term limited out of the legislature.

But that is not what Audrey Hill writes about in this post. She writes about the bald-faced whoppers that charter advocates tell.

She quotes Johnston telling a group of innocent young college graduates about the miracles he accomplished when he was a principal because he believed (!) She has a tape of his 21 minutes of self-praise.

She begins:

At a Teach for America fundraiser, DFER politician and then Colorado Senator, Mike Johnston, tells a story that will be brief because (he jokes) he doesn’t want to keep his audience from dessert. He launches into a narrative about a scrappy, young, founding principal who beat all the odds because he believed in truth and hope. Johnston’s story is peppered with the names of students and their stories. Over the course of 21:53 minutes, we meet Tasha, Flavio, Jermaine and Travis (the 44th kid). He weaves from story to story and then back to how he and others (mostly TFA alums) fight against a system that has been catering to “an old set of interests with a wrong set of priorities,” and he ends by telling an eager, young audience that they are the army who, through sheer force of will “…would hoist America onto its shoulders and carry it across the water…”

What Johnston is saying at that moment (without a shred of irony) is that what America needs most is to be saved by an army of over-privileged youth right out of selective college who will move, with all deliberate speed, into positions of influence and power and more privilege. To return to the 2010 ed reform documentary, they are the Supermen that America has been waiting for, and they will, through sheer force of will (and a rehabilitated mid 20th century vernacular), fix all the things. The message is classic trickle down theory:

More privilege for the over-privileged helps the underprivileged.<!–more–>

Despite all obstacles, 100% of his seniors graduated from high school!

What he didn’t say was that 40% of the class never made it to senior year (the dirty little secret).

There was an increase in the graduation rate, but what Hill notices is the 40% who disappeared and were forgotten.

However, modest improvements don’t sell privatization, unfair labor practice and fast track careerism… all goals in the private interest that are sold alongside the goals of the public interest. Ed Reform makes serving a private interest virtually indistinguishable from serving the public one. It becomes easiest for a rising star to make the pragmatic, commonplace choice to accept whatever half truth or lie of omission keeps the train running. So, 40% of juniors have got to go. But, this article is not about Johnston. It is about other stakeholders: the 45th kids, the families that love them, and the teachers that teach them. And, it asks one question about removing a large share of a junior class…

Celebrating the personal success of students going off to college does not require celebrating the fake success of a business model. Students going off to college deserve all the accolades, but their interests are not served by the disappearance of 40% of their peers at the end of 11th grade. The only interests that are served by a school’s 100% Forever Mission Accomplished party are the private ones… the career of the rising star, the reputation of a school network, the agenda of the wealthy donors that fund them.

What Audrey Hill has discovered is that reform is not about the kids. It is about the heroes of their story, the privileged elite who make up stories about saving them. The saviors are the heroes! They can fudge the data as much as they want, and a credulous media won’t care. Their funders won’t care either.

As a result, a disposing school can remove as many students as they wish to fulfill their 100% Forever claim. They can hold onto non-disruptive kids and use their per pupil dollars for years and still not return a high school diploma. They can create a culture of winners (who gets to stay) and losers (who’s got to go). They can use fake data to suggest that superior performance is a result of at-will employment, ending due process, high class size with exceptional teachers, blended learning, daily test prep, low community agency, mayor controlled school systems, two hour bus rides to school, high but unpublished attrition rates. They can dump any educator, any child, any parent who displeases them and effectively dampen protest and oversight. They can maintain a parasitical relationship to living public schools and return only those students who they do not prefer. They can pursue instability with no concern for the people they are supposed to serve.

All of these are the bad policies of more privileged people on the backs of less privileged people… the kids that are removed or taught in test prep factories, the teachers that labor every day under a cloud of undeserved censure, the schools that are shamed by fake data, and the users and benefactors of public education itself. The mission is not only NOT accomplished, it is subverted and harnessed to an entirely different mission serving the oldest set of interests and the wrong set of priorities.