Archives for the month of: July, 2019


Mercedes Schneider posted a review of the meteoric rise of a young alumna of TFA. 

West Virginia Public Radio asked this young woman for her opinion of the new charter law in that state. She sharply criticized West Virginia for letting districts act as authorizers, which goes against charter school gospel that the best laws have multiple authorizers that compete to open multiple charter schools.

I read the interview, saw her picture, and I swear I thought she was 14 years old. Maybe 21, since she was a college graduate.

She is now “director for state advocacy and policy with the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.”

What was her relevant experience?

She worked for Michelle Rhee in D.C. as a “program manager,” whatever that is.

She was education policy director for Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, then executive director of the Alabama Coalition for Public Charter Schools. (Bentley, a very far-right Republican, resigned in 2017 because of a sex scandal.)

How many “public” charter schools are there in Alabama? Two.

Reformworld offers great career opportunities for ambitious young people. You can achieve very little, then be asked to opine on public radio about important state legislation that was designed to harm public schools.

Schneider writes:

Alabama’s charter school law allows for multiple authorizers, as NSFA notes on its “start a school –> process” page:

Groups applying to open a charter school in a district that has registered as an authorizer must first apply to the district. Should the district deny the application, applicants can appeal to the Alabama Public Charter School Commission (APCSC). The decision of the APCSC is final. Groups applying to open in a district that has not registered as an authorizer must apply directly to the APCSC.

So then, why only two charter schools in four years? Isn’t market-based reform about quantifiable results?

Why would WV pro-school-choice legislators seek advice from someone whose AL charter school policy advocacy resulted in a scant two schools in four years?

Why, indeed.

Schultz has an impressive title: director for state advocacy and policy for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

No reason to check for the substance behind it.


Robert Pondiscio works at the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which authorizes charter schools in Ohio. He left a career in journalism to teach, then worked for E.D. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge Foundation, and is soon to publish a book explaining the success of Eva Moskowitz’s controversial Success Academy charter chain. In this article called “No Apologies for No-Excuses Charter Schools,” Pondiscio explains his view that such schools are highly successful and should be celebrated.

He notes with dismay that even spokespersons for the charter industry are backing away from the no-excuses model.

He writes:

The phrase “no excuses” was coined 20 years ago to describe an optimistic movement and mindset that insisted there must be no excuses for adult failure. This coincided with the charter movement’s highest level of moral authority and public prestige, but that was no coincidence. When it first gained traction as a brand, a school model, and a rallying cry, “no excuses” signaled the non-negotiable belief that the root cause of educational failure and black-white achievement gaps was not poverty, not parents, not children, and above all not race. It was the belief that failing schools were the source of the problem and that great schools could be the solution—provided, of course, that everyone associated with them refused to tolerate or excuse failure.

Schools that embraced the “no excuses” mantra and mindset shared standard features such as longer instructional days, data-driven instruction, school uniforms, insistence on proper classroom behavior, an embrace of testing and accountability, and an unshakable commitment to get all students to and through college—features that remain in place in many charters (and other successful schools) today…

The sight of black and brown children required to “track the speaker” in class, or passing through hallways in straight lines, routinely brings complaints from both progressive educators and political progressives that high-performing schools teach only compliance and perpetuate the “school to prison pipeline”—a critique that deserves the strongest rebuke. Students in high-performing charters are not on their way to prison. They’re on their way to college. If all you see is teachers imposing their will on children, compliance for compliance sake, rather than a determined effort to create the school culture and classroom conditions—attention, focus, and affirmation—that make learning possible, you’ve missed the point entirely. 

The reluctance to defend the no excuses culture validates the common criticism that these schools are harsh and militaristic. Yet caring support for students is essential to the success of no excuses schools.  “One thing I consistently found was that no-excuses discipline failed if it was not combined with the sure knowledge on a student’s part that teachers cared deeply about them and their education,” said David Whitman, who wrote a seminal book in 2008 on no excuses schools, Sweating the Small Stuff: Inner-City Schools and the New Paternalism. “There had to be a caring connection between teacher and student for strict discipline to work, or what I described as a kind of benign paternalism,” he told me. SEL enthusiasts take note: tough love is not an oxymoron. 

Wonks may love research and data, but narrative wins hearts and minds. The general impulse—that a safe, well-run, and orderly school is a precondition to academic excellence—has not changed in a generation and remains very popular with parents who continue to swell urban charter waitlists. The mindset that it is (or ought to be) morally unacceptable to allow low-income kids and children of color to be failed by adults and the institutions we build for their ostensible benefit, is no less valid or resonant today than it was two decades ago. What “no excuses” got right—and it’s still right—is that learning cannot occur in chaos. High expectations are essential and non-negotiable. “No excuses” meant exactly that: If kids are failing, we are failing. These are ideals that don’t need an apology.

They need a revival. 

Questions: are no-excuses charters a rebirth, as David Whitman put it, of paternalism? Are they a form of colonialism? How do the young white TFA teachers learn to administer discipline that they themselves never experienced? Do black and brown students require a different kind of discipline than white students? If every black and brown child went to a school run by Eva Moskowitz would that solve the huge economic gaps between the races? What happens to the majority of students (“scholars”) who don’t make it through the 12th year of no-excuses schooling?



Higher education rests on the backs of ill-paid adjunct professors, who spent years getting a Ph.D., then learned that full-time positions were nearly impossible to find.

This article describes a revolt by the adjuncts in Florida. 

Two half-time adjunct jobs do not make a full-time income. Far from it,” Ximena Barrientos says. “I’m lucky that I have my own apartment. I have no idea how people make it work if they have to pay rent.”

We are not sitting on a street corner, or in a welfare office, or in the break room of a fast food restaurant. We are sitting inside a brightly lit science classroom on the third floor of an MC Escher-esque concrete building, with an open breezeway letting in the muggy South Florida air, on the campus of Miami Dade College, one of the largest institutions of higher learning in the United States of America. Barrientos has been teaching here for 15 years. But this is not “her” classroom. She has a PhD, but she does not have a designated classroom. Nor does she have an office. Nor does she have a set schedule, nor tenure, nor healthcare benefits, nor anything that could be described as a decent living wage. She is a full-time adjunct professor: one of thousands of members of the extremely well-educated academic underclass, whose largely unknown sufferings have played just as big a role as student debt in enabling the entire swollen College Industrial Complex to exist.

As Barrientos chatted with another adjunct in the empty classroom, the conversation turned to horror stories: the adjuncts forced to sleep in their cars; the adjunct who was sleeping in classrooms at night; the adjunct who had a full mental breakdown from the stress of not being able to earn a living after all of the time he had put in getting his PhD. Such stories are common, from campus to campus, whispered by adjuncts who know deep down that they themselves are living constantly on the edge of personal, professional, and financial disaster. Other than academic credentials, most adjunct professors don’t have much. But recently, Ximena Barrientos, and her 2,800 colleagues at Miami Dade College, and thousands of others just like them throughout the state of Florida, have acquired, at shocking speed and on a grand scale, something of great value—a union. And they want nothing less than dignity….

University budgets are balanced on the backs of adjunct professors. In an adjunct, a school gets the same class taught for about half the salary of a full-time professor, and none of the benefits. The school also retains a god-like control over the schedules of adjuncts, who are literally laid off after every single semester, and then rehired as necessary for the following semester. In the decade since the financial crisis, state governments have slashed higher education funding, and Florida is no exception. That has had two primary consequences on campus: students have taken on ever-higher levels of debt to pay for school, and the college teaching profession has been gutted, as expensive full-time positions are steadily eliminated in favor of cheaper adjunct positions. Many longtime adjuncts talk of jealously waiting for years for a full-time professor to die or retire, only to see the full-time position eliminated when they finally do.

What can the adjuncts do? They are doing what they must, the only thing they can do to get decent working conditions and a living wage: they are unionizing.


When we consider the charter industry, it’s hard not to notice how it has become fertile territory for entrepreneurs with no education experience.

Take a case in point: The meteoric career of Ron Packard.

Begin by reading this dated biography, posted on  SourceWatch.

When it was written, Ron was making $5 million a year as CEO of the online charter chain K12 Inc. The company had a market value of more than $1.25 billion. Ron and former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett founded with startup money supplied by ex-felon and junk bond king MIchael Milken and Larry Ellison of Oracle.

His background:

Packard, born in 1963, grew up in Thousand Oaks, California, the son of a radar and weapon systems engineer for Hughes Aircraft, where he worked as a summer engineer.[12] He then worked in the mergers and acquisitions operation of Goldman Sachs from 1986 to 1988, and at McKinsey and Company from 1989 to 1993.[13] After leaving McKinsey, Packard went to Chile to work on getting government permits for some investors who had “bought title to a large forest.”[12] He was then picked up by Milken’s education investment holding firm, Knowledge Universe Learning Group, which appointed him partner, vice president and chief executive (1997-2000);[14] and then by Knowledge Schools, a chain of preschools.[15] Packard also served as a director at LearnNow Inc. (which was bought out by Edison in 2001), and Academy 123 Inc. (2004-2006; now owned by Discovery Communications).[16]

Goldman Sachs and McKinsey: quite the pedigree. No evidence of experience as an educator.

Ron soon realized that $5 million a year at K12 Inc. was not enough. He created a charter chain of his own, called Pansophic Learning.

Here is his bio from that gig:


Founder/Chief Executive Officer

Ron Packard is the CEO and Founder of Pansophic Learning, a global technology based education company. Packard is a well known educator, entrepreneur and visionary as well as the author of the highly regarded and reviewed book Education Transformation. Packard was previously the long time CEO and Founder of K12 Inc. He oversaw the growth of K12 from just an idea to almost one billion in revenue, making it one of the largest education companies in the world. During his tenure, revenue compounded at near 80%. Before K12, Packard was the Vice President of Knowledge Universe and CEO of Knowledge Schools, one of the nation’s largest early childhood education companies. He was also instrumental in the successful investments in Learn Now, Children’s School USA, Leapfrog, TEC, and Children’s Discovery Center. Packard also worked for McKinsey & Company and for Goldman Sachs in mergers and acquisitions. Packard has received the Education Industry Association’s James P. Boyle Entrepreneurial Leadership Award, as well as the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in the IT Services & Solutions category in Greater Washington. The University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business named him a Distinguished Alumni, and he also received an Outstanding Leadership Award from the United States Distance Learning Association. He sits on the Digital Learning Council. Packard previously served on the Department of Defense’s Education Advisory Committee. Packard has been featured on nationwide radio and television shows and magazines, including Bloomberg TV, Forbes, and the Washington Post to name a few. He holds a B.A. from the University of California at Berkeley and an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago, both with honors.

So now he is an “Education Expert” without ever teaching!

And he is not finished!

Packard founded ACCEL charters, which have targeted Ohio for its growth plans.

In 2016, during the campaign, Trump visited one of  Ron’s charters in Ohio. Even The 74 questioned why Trump chose to visit a failing charter school.

Ron’s Accel chain operates for profit, of course. Like, what’s the point of an education business if it doesn’t make a profit?

Ron moves into the Ohio market because state legislators don’t care about ethics or quality.

Jan Resseger wrote here that Ohio is a playground for swindlers. 

First there was Bill Lager’s fabulously profitable ECOT, which took over $1 billion out of the state’s education budget, and no one cared until recently because Lager dropped a few million into the campaign coffers of politicians. Then there was Dave Brennan and his White Hat scam charters.

Ron already has more than 41 charters, and his chain is growing. He is currently pursuing a business plan of buying up failed charters, and he has his eye on two in Cleveland. He will soon be enrolling as many students as the failed ECOT.

So this is what American education is becoming. A cash cow for an entrepreneur.



Three students at the University of Mississippi posed with rifles at a memorial to Emmett Till, a Black boy who was murdered by vigilantes in 1955. 

For a long period of time, open racism was underground. Now, thanks to our president, racism is okay again.

The students were suspended by their fraternity. But not by the university. Not yet.

Jan Resseger reminded me of this moving paragraph in Eve Ewing’s profound book Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side:


Understanding these tropes of death and mourning as they pertain not to the people we love, but to the places where we loved them, has a particular gravity during a time when the deaths of black people at the hands of the state—through such mechanisms as police violence and mass incarceration—are receiving renewed attention. As the people of Bronzeville understand, the death of a school and the death of a person at the barrel of a gun are not the same thing, but they also are the same thing. The people of Bronzeville understand that a school is more than a school. A school is the site of a history and a pillar of black pride in a racist city. A school is a safe place to be. A school is a place where you find family. A school is a home. So when they come for your schools, they’re coming for you. And after you’re gone, they’d prefer you be forgotten. (Ghosts in the Schoolyard, pp. 155-156)

I am pleased to announce that Eve Ewing has been chosen to speak this fall in the annual Diane Silvers Ravitch Lecture Series at Wellesley College.  The event is open to the public and admission is free.


It is very cool to home school in California! There are charter schools for home schoolers where you don’t have to go to school!

Home schoolers get a list of approved expenses, and they can decide how to spend the public’s money. How cool is that! This is a program that Betsy DeVos must love! True educational freedom on the public’s dime!

In California, there’s a way parents can use money from the government to buy multi-day Disneyland Park Hopper passes, San Diego Zoo family memberships, tickets to Medieval Times and dolphin encounters at SeaWorld.
There are a handful of charter schools that give students’ families as much as $2,800 to $3,200 — tax dollars sent to the charter schools — every year to spend on anything they want from a list of thousands of home-school vendors approved by the charters, according to the schools’ websites.
Some home-school vendors offer tutoring, curricula, books and other traditional educational services. Other vendors sell tickets to theme parks that are billed as field trips, or extracurricular activities that are billed as P.E., including parkour classesacting classesice skating lessonshorseback riding lessons and more. 
Forget college-and-career-ready. How about spending tax dollars on family fun?


Our friend Peter Greene is now a regular contributor to Forbes, where he enlightens readers from the business community about education. Many years ago, I wrote a column for Forbes and visited their offices. I discovered to my surprise that my editor was married to a classroom teacher. We have friends everywhere.

Recently, Peter has been enlightening readers of Forbes about standardized testing.

In this one, he shows that standardized tests don’t show much that matters.

“There are plenty of reasons to doubt the validity of the Big Standardized Test, be it PARCC or SBA or whatever your state is using these days. After almost two decades of its use, we’ve raised an entire generation of students around the notion of test-based accountability, and yet the fruits of that seem…. well, elusive. Where are the waves of students now arriving on college campuses super-prepared? Where are the businesses proclaiming that today’s grads are the most awesome in history? Where is the increase in citizens with great-paying jobs? Where are any visible signs that the test-based accountability system has worked?”

Even a few reformers are doubting the value of the BS test.

In this piece, he explained why standardized testing is beyond repair.

Valerie Jablow is a parent and blogger in D.C. who thinks that the city government should take care of all children, not just charter schools. What a revolutionary idea! And she believes that charter schools should be accountable and transparent, which puts her at odds with the charter industry.

She writes here about a recent meeting of the City Council, which demonstrated that transparency is absent from the charter sector.

Members of the public spoke about for transparency and were limited to 4 minutes to testify.

Government witnesses spoke out against transparency with no time limit.

And get this:

–The COO of KIPP raised the need for secrecy concerning charter school real estate (really–check it out), while the executive director of the charter board invoked “trade secrets” as a bar to public knowledge, echoing the “industry secret” standard reportedly invoked by the charter board as a bar to public knowledge.



Katy Crawford-Garrett is an associate professor at the University of New Mexico.


Success Academies, a network of 47 charter schools in New York City that serves a majority of Black and Brown youth from poor communities, has long been considered a star of the school reform movement, garnering accolades from politicians, philanthropists, and the media. Founded by Eva Moskowitz in 2006, Success Academies can claim some of the highest standardized test scores in the state of New York (often outperforming wealthy suburban districts), a metric which suggests that Success has done the impossible – figured out howto erase the achievement gaps that have confounded reformers, school leaders, researchers, and policymakers for decades.


At the end of a 7-episode podcast on Success Academiesdeveloped by Gimlet Media and featured as part of the StartUpseries, the host, Lisa Chow, weighs the pros and cons of Success’s controversial approach to educating poor Black and Brown youth by stating, “Maybe these emotional and social costs that families are paying, maybe those are the costs of catapulting across the vast achievement gap.” The “costs” that Chow is referring to — as articulated by parents, students, and teachers in vivid terms throughout the program — include the loss of humanity, dignity, and mental health, casualties, it seems, to achieving top scores on standardized tests. As a teacher educator and former elementary school teacher, I wondered if this was really where twenty years of aggressive educational reforms had brought us- to a place in which parents from historically-marginalized communities have to choose between their child’s scholastic success and their overall well-being.


The podcast offers a disturbing window into the approaches that Success uses in order to glean its unprecedented results including a disproportionate focus on test prep (sometimes up to 6 hours a day), harsh disciplinary practices (including record-high rates of suspension), and the revolving door of young,inexperienced teachers willing to work punishing hours and enforce strict policies, even as they have little to no formal preparation as educators.


We do hear some inspirational stories of students like Moctarwho earns a full ride to MIT and powerful accounts of children who thrive, at least initially, within the climate of academic rigor. However, like so many narratives of American education, the story of Success rests on the tired binary between innovative charter schools and status quo public schools, between lazy union employees and hard-working young idealists, and the familiar trope of the White savior and the Black and Brown children who need to be tightly controlled as they learn to dress and act more White and middle class.


Eva Moskowitz, Success Academies’ controversial founder, and the anti-hero of the podcast, counters these critiques vociferously throughout the program insisting that her schools not only teach children to read but to love reading and that beyond the robotic and stifling test prep, there exists a rigorous curriculum focused on critical thinking. It is often difficult to believe Moskowitz, earnest as she sounds, in the face of the mounting evidence that Chow and her fellow producers provide. A former teacher shares in heartbreaking terms how she found herself viewing students solely as numbers and colors- indicators of their performance on various assessments – rather than as individuals with ideas, thoughts and questions. A young Black student at the first Success Academy High School struggles with the ways in which her cultural identity is denied by the organization after non-religious head scarves are banned at the school. In the face of this critique, Moskowitz contends in a bewildered tone that all students at Success are the same,ignoring the complexity of her students’ racialized experiencesin and out of school and refusing to consider how the racist policies her schools enact actually undermine her espoused goal of ensuring student success. Throughout the podcast, I marveled at the notion that the kids are taught to master the assessmentsand adhere to the policies but never to question either.


In the Ethnic Studies movement, which has similar aims to Success but contrastive instructional approaches, posing critical questions is central to the curriculum. For over forty years, Ethnic Studies advocates have worked diligently and doggedly to foster rich educational experiences for Black and Brown youth in an effort to connect academic achievement to students’ cultural identities and to avoid the harsh disciplinary tactics and arcane policies that predominate at “No Excuses” charter schools. In Tucson, for example, a Mexican-American Studies program was introduced in 1998 as part of an effort to address endemic underachievement among Mexican-American youth. In the intervening years, literature and history courses were offeredwith an explicit focus on Mexican-American identity. By every measurable metric, the program was a success as participation in the program led to an increase in graduation rates, college attendance, and academic performance while simultaneously validating students’ cultural histories and sense of identity. Despite these laudable results, the program never had near the financial investment of Success Academies (Moskowitz spent $5 million alone on an advertising campaign when her school buildings were under threat by New York City Mayor BillDiBlasio), and instead of being scaled up, Mexican-American Studies was deemed illegal by the state of Arizona and shut down in 2011. The decision was eventually overturned after a costly and lengthy court battle; yet rebuilding the program will take years and, in the interim, countless Arizona youth were denied the opportunity to take Ethnic Studies courses. All of this exists in sharp contrast to the ways in which Success Academy has grown exponentially over the past decade, starting with one school in Harlem in 2006 and now counting 47 schools across New York City.


In the meantime, Ethnic Studies advocates have workedtirelessly, often without financial resources, investments from hedge fund managers, or the high-profile political connections enjoyed by Moskowitz to create curricula that honors students’cultural backgrounds, teaches critical consciousness, and fosters academic achievement without forcing students to make painful choices to abandon their heritage and humanity to adhere to White middle class norms.


I typically begin and end my teacher education courses with aquestion: What is education for and why does it matter? As much as we want to believe that education enhances social mobility, we know that it actually reproduces inequality- a phenomenon that Eva Moskowitz laudably seeks to address. My hope is that my students, who will all become teachers in one of the poorest states in our union, understand that asking and re-asking this question is foundational to our work as educators. If our answer focuses on educational access at all costs, then we end up with models like Success where kids learn to obey, sit with folded hands, and forsake their identities. But if our answer involves cultivating students capable of participating critically and humanely in our democracy, then we will conceptualize schooling differently and imagine new possibilities. As Moskowitz passionately argues, poor and marginalized youth deserve access to opportunity. They deserve challenge and rigor. They deserve an education that prepares them for college. But they also deserve an education that acknowledges their humanity – a process that makes all of us more fully human.