Archives for the month of: July, 2019


At graduation, the top students at Universal Academy in Detroit spoke critically of the school, and now their diplomas arebeing withheld. 

The school might have been proud of their graduates for showing independence and critical thinking, but no.

A piece of certified mail arrived for Tuhfa Kasem this week. Kasem hoped the envelope contained her long-awaited high school diploma.

What she found instead seemed to her like a threat.

Kasem, one of the top students at Universal Academy, surprised school administrators by delivering a graduation speech in May that criticized the school. 

Nearly two months after her speech went viral, an official from Hamadeh Educational Services, the company that manages the school, wrote to Kasem and Zainab Altalaqani, who delivered a similar speech, that they had committed acts “of dishonesty and deceit.” The letters ask the students to meet with administrators, noting that they “have every right to bring an attorney…”

The students say they’re being targeted for putting a spotlight on problems at their school, which sits on the western edge of Detroit. In their speeches they argued that the school employs too many long-term substitutes, and raised concerns that students face punishment or retaliation if they speak up.


Our blog poet wrote a poem about DFER (Democrats for Education Reform). DFER is a group of wealthy hedge fund managers who may or may not be Democrats, but who are committed to charter schools, test-based evaluation of teachers, high-stakes testing, merit pay, and Teach for America.

The Dream DFERed (with apologies o Langston Hughes)

What happens to a dream DFERed?
Does it disrupt
Like a test in a school?
Or fester like a Common Core–
Or techy tool?
Does it stink like stale pee?
Or rust and fade away-
like Michelle Rhee?
Maybe it just doubles down
like a billionaire
Or does it drown?

Bernie Sanders recently was invited by the United Teachers of Los Angeles to speak to its Leadership Conference.

I was invited to make a tape introducing him. I did but you won’t see it or hear it. Technical problems. Just wait. You will hear Bernie loud and clear. He is still the only candidate with a thoughtful education agenda.

Tom Ultican has written many posts about the failure of privatizing public education. In this one, he takes the long view and concludes that what we see today is the culmination of fifty years of attempts to turn education into a business. 

He starts from two recent books: Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains and Anand Giridharadas’ Winners Take All.

These are good lens through which to understand the rightwing plutocratic attack on the public sector.

There are many reasons why I would like to support Mayor Pete Buttigieg. He’s young, he is well-educated, he is smart, he has an admirable record of service to his country, he’s brimming with ideas. I find him very attractive on many levels.

But on education, he is a stealth corporate reformer.

I had an inkling of this when I read a review of his autobiography, which described his formative years at McKinsey and his data-driven, technocratic approach to solving problems. But I didn’t reach a judgment.

Then I learned more when a friend sent me an invitation to a fundraiser for Mayor Pete, hosted by Reed Hastings. Hastings is the billionaire founder of Netflix who is a charter school zealot. He served on the California State Board of Education where he used his influence to minimize any regulation of charters. Since then, he has given many millions to charters as well as to the charter lobby, The California Charter Schools Association. He created a fund of $100 million to promote privatization of public schools by charter expansion. Hastings has said he looks forward to the day when all schools are run by corporations, not elected school boards.

I tweeted the invitation and it got a lot of attention. Carol Burris heard from Pete’s National Political Director, Stephen Brokaw. He wanted to correct any misperception we at the Network for Public Education had about where Mayor Pete stands on education. He is against vouchers. He is against for-profit charters. He (or his team) visited Roxbury Prep in Massachusetts and was very impressed with their high test scores. Brokaw cited Roxbury Prep as the kind of nonprofit charter that offered lessons to public schools.

Carol responded that the issue is not whether charters are for-profit or nonprofit because many nonprofits are run by for-profit organizations. Only one state in the nation—Arizona—allows for-profit charters.  In Michigan, for example, for-profit charters are prohibited but 80% of the state’s charters are managed by for-profit companies. She also pointed out that Roxbury Prep has very high suspension rates, the highest in the state, and the state has repeatedly admonished Roxbury Prep.

Carol suggested that he speak to me. Brokaw then invited me to have a conversation with Sonal Shah, who is National Policy Director, and Sally Mayes, who is “helping” the campaign on education. Shah, I learned later, is amazingly accomplished, but I saw to my dismay that part of her commitment to innovation was to “incubate” Teach for India. In the past, I have been contacted by union teachers in India who complained about Teach for India, echoing the complaints often expressed here about TFA. Wendy Kopp created both TFA AND the international “Teach for All,” which includes Teach for India.

We three spoke last week. It was a frustrating conversation because we were at opposite poles. We disagreed about whether charters are effective, whether they are sufficiently regulated, whether they need more oversight. We disagreed about the value of annual testing. I said that no high-performing nation has annual testing for every child in grades 3-8 as we do. They said I was wrong and cited Japan and South Korea. I corrected them and said those nations have periodic testing, not annual testing. I asked whether their candidate wanted to appeal to the 6% who send their children to charters or the 90% who don’t. I did not get an answer.

I subsequently learned from LinkedIn that Sally Mayes is senior director of Teach for America’s Leadership for Educational Equity, where she has worked for six years. Its board consists of two billionaires—Emma Bloomberg and Arthur Rock (who subsidizes TFA interns who work for Members of Congress) and someone from McKinsey.

I had subsequent emails with Sonal Shah, who is an economist at Georgetown University and who previously worked at Google, Goldman Sachs, and directed the Obama administration’s Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation in the White House. She told me that the campaign has reached out to consult with John King, Jim Shelton, and Randi Weingarten.

John King succeeded Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education. King was previously the founder of the no-excuses Roxbury Prep. Then he was Commissioner of Education in New York, where his fierce advocacy for Common Core and testing outraged parents and helped to create the opt-out movement.

James Shelton had a leadership role at the Gates Foundation, worked for Arne Duncan in charge of innovation grants for Race to the Top, then ran the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

Mayor Pete may have many things going for him, but his education agenda is not one of them. If he were President, he would continue the failed Bush-Obama agenda.

If he runs against Trump, I will of course support him and vote for him. I will vote for anyone who wins the Democratic nomination.

But not in the primaries.

I am willing to change course if Mayor Pete makes clear that he supports fully public schools that are accountable to an elected school board and that he would eliminate the federal Charter Schools Program, created by the Clinton administration in 1994 and funded with $6 million to help jumpstart new charters; that program has grown into a $440 million slush fund for corporate charter chains, which is far from its original purpose. There is a long time from now until the primaries and I will keep an open mind.




Jersey Jazzman knows that the leaders of the Disruption Movement are always on the hunt for proof that their theories work. One model district after another has had its moment in the sun, then sinks into oblivion.

The district of the moment, he writes, is Camden, possibly the poorest in the state. Most people might look at Camden and think that what’s needed most is jobs and good wages. Disrupters have a different answer: Charter Schools.

In an earlier post, he explained how charters “cream” the students they want to get better results and wow naive editorial writers.

In this post, he wrote that Camden was supposed to prove that charters can take every child in the district and succeed. They would not select only the ones they wanted.

Because Camden was going to be the proof point that finally showed the creaming naysayers were wrong with a new hybrid model of schooling: the renaissance school. These schools would be run by the same organizations that managed charter schools in Newark and Philadelphia. The district would turn over dilapidated school properties to charter management organizations (CMOs); they would, in turn, renovate the facilities, using funds the district claimed it didn’t have and would never get.

But most importantly: these schools would be required to take all of the children within the school’s neighborhood (formally defined as its “catchment”). Creaming couldn’t occur, because everyone from the neighborhood would be admitted to the school. Charter schools would finally prove that they did, indeed, have a formula for success that could be replicated for all children.

It turned out not to be true, however. He calls Camden “the very big lie.”

In the third post about Camden, Jersey Jazzman gives his readers a lesson about the limitations of the CREDO methodology.

He starts here:

I and others have written a great deal over the years about the inherent limitations and flaws in CREDO’s methodology. A quick summary:

The CREDO reports rely on data that is too crude to do the job properly. At the heart of CREDOs methodology is their supposed ability to virtually “match” students who do and don’t attend charter schools, and compare their progress. The match is made on two factors: first, student characteristics, including whether students qualify for free lunch, whether they are classified as English language learners (in New Jersey, the designation is “LEP,” or “limited English proficient”), whether they have a special education disability, race/ethnicity, and gender.

The problem is that these classifications are not finely-grained enough to make a useful match. There is, for example, a huge difference between a student who is emotionally disturbed and one who has a speech impairment; yet both would be “matched” as having a special education need. In a city like Camden, where childhood poverty is extremely high, nearly all children qualify for free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL), which requires a family income below 185 percent of the poverty line. Yet there is a world of difference between a child just below that line and a child who is homeless. If charter schools enroll more students at the upper end of this range — and there is evidence that in at least some instances they do — the estimates of the effect of charter schools on student learning growth very likely will be overstated….

A “study” like the Camden CREDO report attempts to compare similar students in charters and public district schools by matching students based on crude variables. Again, these variables aren’t up to the job — but just as important, students can’t be matched on unmeasured characteristics like parental involvement. Which means the results of the Camden CREDO report must be taken with great caution.

And again: when outcomes suddenly shift from year-to-year, there’s even more reason to suspect the effects of charter and renaissance schools are not due to factors such as better instruction.

One more thing: any positive effects found in the CREDO study are a fraction of what is needed to close the opportunity gap with students in more affluent communities. There is simply no basis to believe that anything the charter or renaissance schools are doing will make up for the effects of chronic poverty, segregation, and institutional racism from which Camden students suffer.

This is a richly argued and documented critique that deserves your full attention.

Underneath the search for miracles is the wish that equality can be purchased on the cheap. This satisfies the needs of politicians who want desperately believe there are easy answers to tough problems. JJ reminds us that there are not.

If politicians stopped looking for quick fixes, miracles, and secret sauce, it might be possible to have serious discussions about our problems and how to solve them.




Mercedes Schneider has been watching the slow train wreck in New Orleans. As she puts it in her latest post, “Add another car.” 

School closings, graduation scandals, confused parents.

The great experiment in complete privatization is going into a ditch. There are thousands of children. Who will save them now?

This is a puzzlement. Andy Stern was once one of the nation’s most important labor leaders as head of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). After he stepped down, he became close to Eli Broad and joined the billionaires’ fight against teachers’ unions!  

Hamilton Nolan writes:

Andy Stern spent 14 years as the head of the SEIU, America’s most politically active labor union. He was perhaps the most visible union leader in America. And what is he doing now? He’s lending his name to a billionaire-funded astroturf group that aims to quash the power of teacher’s unions.

When Stern left the SEIU in 2010, he was a true political power player—his official bio, in fact, brags that “Stern has visited the White House more frequently than any other single person during the Obama Administration.” Under his leadership, his union dramatically grew its membership and helped Barack Obama get elected. But his successes came at a cost. Stern developed a reputation as a business-friendly union leader, known for striking deals with companies that were often seen as too weak by many in the labor movement. Under the guise of modernization and growth, Stern seemed to lose his connection to the grassroots, radical, people-powered aspects of the union world. In 2010, The Nation quoted one union leader as saying, “Andy Stern leaves pretty much without a friend in the labor movement.”

His post-SEIU years have only intensified this feeling. Stern has spent the past decade serving on corporate boards, touting the idea of a universal basic income as an economic solution superior to building labor power, and further ingratiating himself to corporate America as a sort of post-union ambassador to the Aspen Institute world. He also took a seat on the board of the Broad Foundation, a billionaire-funded group that pushed charter schools—raising eyebrows from teacher’s unions, who are often cast as the villain by wealthy reformers seeking to build alternatives to America’s public education system…

The most prominent and powerful American labor actions of the past year were the teacher’s strikes that swept the nation, from West Virginia to California. Public school teachers have, more than anyone, been the most visible engine of recent union militancy. And as all of that was happening, here is what Andy Stern did: in April of this year, he was announced as an official adviser of the National Parents Union, an education reform group with deep ties to the Walton Foundation, the charitable arm of the family of Walmart heirs, the single richest family in America. (Charter schools are a major focus of the Walton Foundation; the NPU’s board members are affiliated with a variety of groups that have received significant Walton Foundation funding, and its co-leader is an executive at Green Dot Public Schools, a charter group funded in part by the Waltons.)…

The SEIU—still a politically active union, and one which is now having its name used, to fight against teacher’s unions, by a corporate-friendly former president who maintains a higher profile than the union’s current president—did not offer any comment.


The State Education Department is taking over the Providence School District but thus far it has not released any hint of a plan. 

The only thing that seems sure is that the state will not put any new money to the district where schools are in disrepair.

Despite having been working towards a Providence School takeover for more than three months, Rhode Island’s Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green is now backing away from promises of transparency.

Her office is now refusing to layout plans as to how to improve Providence Schools.

Appearing on GoLocal LIVE this week, Speaker of the House Nick Mattiello discussed Rhode Island Department of Education voting to take over the beleaguered Providence public schools, following the Johns Hopkins report which identified the glaring problems in Providence — including school buildings. He voiced concern that there is no public plan.

Mattiello warned that the state was not prepared to assist with additional financial resources beyond those already provided. 

“If you don’t invest each and every year you’re going to have a disaster on your hands. They have a problem in Providence and that’s going to have to be addressed. The state is not going to come in with a large sack of money and address the Providence infrastructure needs,” said Mattiello. “They have to come up with a plan. I’m disappointed that I don’t see one at this point.”

I am reposting this post because the main link was dead and I fixed it. Also, it was originally titled “The D.C. ‘Miracle’ turns to Ashes,” and a reader said a miracle can’t turn to ashes. So it has a new title.


A year ago, reformers were touting D.C. as their triumphant example. Those graduation rates!

Unfortunately, like every other reformer tale, it was a hoax. The graduation rate was phony. Students were walking across the stage without the necessary attendance or credits. Metrics!

From PBS:

“Critics view the problems, particularly the attendance issue, as an indictment of the entire data-driven evaluation system instituted a more than a decade ago when then-Mayor Adrian Fenty took over the school system and appointed Michelle Rhee as the first chancellor. Rhee’s ambitious plan to clear out dead wood and focus on accountability for teachers and administrators landed her on the cover of Time magazine holding a broom. But now analysts question whether Rhee’s emphasis on performance metrics has created a monster.”

Ya think?

And the teacher-turnover rate is 25% a year! 

The national average? Only 16%. In fact, D.C.’s teacher turnover rate (across both traditional public and public charter schools) is higher than other comparable jurisdictions, including New York, Chicago and Milwaukee.

For both public and charter schools, the highest turnover is taking place at schools with the most at-risk students, with the rate pushing past 30% in Wards 5 and 8.

This is the fruit of Michelle Rhee’s work. A district that continues to have the largest achievement gaps of any urban district tested by NAEP, a phony graduation rate,  and a startlingly high teacher turnover rate. Another “reform” hoax.