Archives for category: Academic Freedom

The state board of education in Colorado has decided to turn over schools in three districts to a for-profit management corporation that claims it can turn the schools around, at a cost of millions of dollars. Where there the firm has ever turned any schools around before isin doubt. The political connections of the firm are not.

Read here about the story and a deep dive into the history of MGT Consulting.

In all cases, the state board gave districts the go-ahead to pay millions of school district dollars for MGT Consulting, a for-profit management firm, to virtually take over the schools. The move has elicited hope from some that the company can improve student performance after everything the districts have tried has failed. But the contracts have prompted condemnation from critics who say the firm has a dubious track record and is diverting tax dollars to private profits at a time when every cent should be spent on student needs…

Leaders of the Florida-based MGT say they specialize in allocating public money more effectively while improving teacher effectiveness in the classroom and school culture. Its management process includes sub-contracting areas of school work to other companies, and it boasts completing over 10,000 projects in many states and abroad over several decades.

MGT is more than just a school testing consultant. The limited liability corporation also consults for other government agencies, including conducting impact studies of privatizing public prisons, according to its website. MGT’s current chief executive officer also co-founded a consulting and lobbying firm tapped into a national network of for-profit education institutions, Republican education reformers, the testing industry and charter schools.

That’s part of what draws controversy as public school academia question the motives of a company headed by pro-school voucher officials working to save failing public schools — for profit…

The group began its work in the 1970s but has been led in its current iteration since 2015, when Trey Traviesa first appears as MGT’s title manager in Florida state records.

Traviesa is a longtime Floridian and former Republican state representative for the Tampa Bay area. He became a lobbyist, venture capitalist, banker and charter school co-founder after serving in Florida’s House of Representatives from 2004 to 2008.

While serving in the state House, Traviesa sponsored legislation to expand Florida’s school voucher program. That program created incentives for corporations to pay for mostly low-income students to leave their school districts and attend private schools.

MGT was hired largely on the basis of its claims of success in Gary, Indiana.

Chalkbeat wrote about the situation in Gary, which is inconclusive and certainly not a demonstration of success:

It’s early to say anything definitive. In 2017, MGT won a four-year contract to manage schools in Gary, Indiana. The deal is potentially worth about $11.4 million, if the state funds the contract for all four years and if the company meets performance goals.

Gary’s school district has about 5,000 students enrolled this year, down from about 11,000 ten years ago. The students in Gary overwhelmingly qualify for free or reduced price lunch, a measure of poverty, like in Adams 14, but only a handful of students are learning English as a second language.

In Gary, the state ordered an emergency manager to come in not only for academic problems, but because the enrollment decline and fiscal mismanagement problems landed the district deep in debt. MGT took over the responsibilities of the superintendent and the school board, at the state’s request, and reports directly to state officials.

The work has been controversial. Some lawmakers called for removing the firm when it was discovered that Tony Bennett, who was state superintendent in Indiana from 2008 through 2013, is a partner in the Strategos Group, which acquired MGT in 2015. Lawmakers argued that the policies Bennett rolled out in his time as state superintendent contributed to Gary’s financial problems that led the state to require an external manager.

MGT has not been removed, however, and Bennett doesn’t have an active role in the management of the district. According to news reports citing state officials, since the takeover, the Gary district has decreased its debt, slowed its enrollment decline, and purchased new textbooks. The latest state rating of the district has also improved slightly.

In other words, MGT has been in charge of Gary (which former state chief Tony Bennett tried to destroy) for one year. It has not created a successful turnaround, there or anywhere else.

Was the Colorado State Board of education influenced by Governor Jared Polis, who has a long record as a supporter of school choice, having founded two charters himself?

 

 

Trump told the Conservative Political Action Committee that he would issue an e ecutive order barring federal funding for research at universities that restrict “free speech.”

Apparently he was thinking of campuses where student protestors have barred hate speech from far-right provocateurs. Speakers who advocate racial hatred and bigotry have not found a hearty welcome on such campuses. Trump promises to intervene.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/03/02/trump-says-new-executive-order-could-strip-colleges-funding-if-they-dont-support-free-speech/

“A new executive order from the White House will aim to make federal research funding for colleges and universities contingent on their support for “free speech,” President Trump said Saturday.

The announcement, during Trump’s address to the Conservative Political Action Conference, appeared to target complaints by some university critics that institutions of higher education stifle right-wing viewpoints.

“If they want our dollars, and we give it to them by the billions, they’ve got to allow people like Hayden and many great young people, and old people, to speak,” Trump said, bringing onstage a young conservative, Hayden Williams, who was physically attacked last month while tabling for a conservative organization at the University of California at Berkeley…

”The executive order, Trump said, would “require colleges to support free speech if they want federal research” money. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump told the CPAC crowd, meeting at National Harbor, Md., that he planned to sign the order “very soon” but did not provide specifics or say whether a draft has already been prepared.

The federal government distributes more than $26 billion a year to colleges and universities for research purposes, according to the National Science Foundation. The vast majority of that money is assigned to projects for the Pentagon, NASA, and the departments of Agriculture, Energy, and Health and Human Services…

”Somebody would have to decide which universities were not supporting free speech on campus,” said Catherine Ross, a professor in constitutional law at George Washington University. “Some group of Washington civil servants — or maybe even worse, political appointees — would be looking at charges of speech discrimination at various colleges and universities, and labeling them as either acceptable in terms of free speech or not acceptable. And that … is a government interference in speech.”

“What’s more, she added, Trump’s policy could inadvertently disqualify many religious academic institutions from receiving federal research funding, to the extent that their religious beliefs prohibit certain views or speakers on campus.”

 

A highly experienced, very successful high school English teacher clung to her favorite literature textbooks.she preferred them to the digital textbooks adopted by the district. One day recently, she arrived in her class to discover that all her textbooks were gone. Her defiance was unacceptable to the state, the district and the principal. The state wants all children using digital material. It is de-emphasizing fiction and literature, replacing them with “informational text.” In short, the Common Core strikes again.

Audrey Silverman arrived at Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High last week ready to finish “The Necklace,” the English class staple short story about the deceptiveness of appearances and the dangers of martyrdom with her gifted, honors ninth-grade students.

But when the literature teacher entered her classroom Thursday morning, 50 textbooks, including the teacher’s edition with years of annotations Silverman said she personally purchased, were missing from the baskets beneath the students’ desks. A student told Silverman she saw the books carted away the prior evening.

“They’re gone,” said Silverman. “Nobody knows where they are.

What happened next has culminated into a tussle between teacher autonomy and embracing new, digital curriculum. Silverman filed a pre-grievance with the teachers’ union against her principal, Allison Harley, for breached academic freedom. Harley, Silverman says, launched an internal investigation with Miami-Dade County Public Schools against her for improper use of email.

Silverman, a 30-year veteran teacher whose scores deem her one of the best teachers in the state, has been using a textbook called “McDougal-Littell Literature” for a decade, although students were using an edition from four years ago. It’s got poems, essays, short stories, Edgar Allan Poe and Shakespeare — a curriculum she says challenges and rivets her students.

But the Florida Department of Education phased out that textbook five years ago and introduced new titles that districts could use. A committee of teachers picked “Collections“ by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, a digital textbook that aligns with new Florida standardized tests that heavily emphasize nonfiction and informational texts.

That digital book was adopted by the district in 2015 while rolling out a tablet-based program for high school freshmen, who could bring their own device or check one out from the school.

“It makes the learning a lot more interactive,” than using just a static book, said Lisette Alves, the assistant superintendent over academics.

Silverman had been quietly hanging on to her hardcover books until last week, when a group of district officials stopped by her classroom. District spokeswoman Jackie Calzadilla said an instructional review of all subjects took place at Krop on Sept. 26 and determined that the material Silverman was using “was not aligned with the Florida Standard” and was outdated.

The next morning, the books were gone. Not in the closed cabinets where she kept the spares, not under desks, not in her own desk.

“I felt that this may happen one day,” Silverman said.

Alves and Sylvia Diaz, assistant superintendent over innovation and school choice, say the district does not make the call to remove books. That decision was made by the principal.

“We do occasionally hear about a teacher using older materials,” Diaz said. “We advise the principal.”

“If we see it as we’re doing reviews, then we advise the principal to make sure they’re using [the adopted books],” Alves said.

Harley, the principal at Krop, would not comment and referred a reporter’s questions to the district. The district said Harley repeatedly asked Silverman to use the approved material and she refused.

Spokeswoman Daisy Gonzalez-Diego said books were removed from Silverman’s class two summers ago, “but the teacher retrieved them and brought them back into the classroom.”

“So, they had to be removed again,” Gonzalez-Diego wrote in an email.

Silverman said this incident has been the first and only time books have been removed from her classroom. She said she’s kept these books in her cabinet for three years.

“That is an outright lie,” she said.

The district also said all other language arts teachers at Krop were using the approved material.

Ceresta Smith, a 10th-grade intensive reading teacher who returned to Krop after a decade at John A. Ferguson Senior High, said she doesn’t use any of the approved material. She uses a collection of materials she’s put together over her 30-year teaching career.

“I said to the principal when I … came back to Krop, I said, ‘Don’t expect me to follow the pacing guide. I’m a veteran and I’m a professional and I know what I’m doing.’ ”

Read more here: https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/education/article219197755.html#storylink=cpy

The story goes on with more horrifying detail.

Celesta Smith, be it noted, is a National Board Certified Teacher, a founder of United Opt Out, and a BAT. Nobody dares to tell her what to teach.

No one should tell Audrey Silverman what to teach. She is a professional.

LEAVE HER ALONE.

Ms. Silverman, google the literary selections and forget about the textbook.

Peter Greene writes here about a speech that Betsy DeVos gave at the National Constitution Center, defending free speech and truth.

“The final stretch of her speech is remarkably like the home stretch of a sermon. Get out from behind your twitter id and recognize you are talking to real, live human beings. We aren’t all saints. DeVos actually admits to having had some bad ideas. She (or someone in her office) turns some nice phrases, like a call for meeting with “open words and open dialogue, not with closed fists or closed minds.” And she calls to embrace a “Golden rule of free speech: seeking to understand as to be understood.”

“There is so much cognitive dissonance to process here. DeVos works for a man who exemplifies the opposite of everything she is saying. And there is very little one can point to in her own conduct, her own filling of the USED office, to show her stated beliefs in action. What exactly has DeVos done to understand the public education system and the people who are committed to what she once called a “dead end.” What has she done to understand the teachers who work in public schools? What has she done to understand any of her critics since she took office? Or, after all these years, is she comfortable in the belief that she knows everything she needs to know about all those things.”

The Trump administration has officially abandoned affirmative action, having decided that African Americans and Latinos no longer need any additional breaks and can pull themselves up by their own shoelaces.

Trump forgot that his son-in-Law Jared Kushner was the beneficiary of affirmative action. As detailed by journalist Daniel Golden in a book about preferential treatment for rich boys, Kushner’s dad gave Harvard a couple of million dollars, although no one in the family ever went to Harvard. This cleared the way for Jared’s admission, who vaulted over better qualified applicants from the same high school. Golden’s Book is called “The Price of Admission: How America’s Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges—and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates.”

I’m not sure how Donald got into the Wharton School. It surely wasn’t grades or brains or even athletic skills (remember that the bone spur in his foot enabled him to avoid the Vietnam draft, his fifth deferment).

The story begins:

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration will encourage the nation’s school superintendents and college presidents to adopt race-blind admissions standards, abandoning an Obama administration policy that called on universities to consider race as a factor in diversifying their campuses, Trump administration officials said.

Last November, Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked the Justice Department to re-evaluate past policies that he believed pushed the department to act beyond what the law, the Constitution and the Supreme Court had required, Devin M. O’Malley, a Justice Department spokesman said. As part of that process, the Justice Department rescinded seven policy guidances from the Education Department’s civil rights division on Tuesday.

“The executive branch cannot circumvent Congress or the courts by creating guidance that goes beyond the law and — in some instances — stays on the books for decades,” Mr. O’Malley said.

The Supreme Court has steadily narrowed the ways that schools can consider race when trying to diversify their student bodies. But it has not banned the practice.

Now, affirmative action is at a crossroads. The Trump administration is moving against any use of race as a measurement of diversity in education. And the retirement of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy at the end of this month will leave the court without its swing vote on affirmative action and allow President Trump to nominate a justice opposed to a policy that for decades has tried to integrate elite educational institutions.

A highly anticipated case is pitting Harvard against Asian-American students who say one of the nation’s most prestigious institutions has systematically excluded some Asian-American applicants to maintain slots for students of other races. That case is clearly aimed at the Supreme Court.

“The whole issue of using race in education is being looked at with a new eye in light of the fact that it’s not just white students being discriminated against, but Asians and others as well,” said Roger Clegg, president and general counsel of the conservative Center for Equal Opportunity. “As the demographics of the country change, it becomes more and more problematic.”

The Obama administration believed that students benefit from being surrounded by diverse classmates, so in 2011, the administration offered schools a potential road map to establishing affirmative action policies that could withstand legal scrutiny. The guidance was controversial at the time that it was issued, for its far-reaching interpretation of the law. Justice officials said that pages of hypothetical scenarios offered in the guidance were particularly problematic, as they clearly bent the law to specific policy preferences.

In a pair of policy guidance documents, the Obama Education and Justice departments told elementary and secondary schools and college campuses to use “the compelling interests” established by the court to achieve diversity. They concluded that the Supreme Court “has made clear such steps can include taking account of the race of individual students in a narrowly tailored manner.”

The Trump administration’s decisions on Tuesday brought government policy back to the George W. Bush administration guidances. The Trump administration did not formally reissue Bush-era guidance on race-based admissions, but, in recent days, officials did repost a Bush administration affirmative action policy document online.

That document states, “The Department of Education strongly encourages the use of race-neutral methods for assigning students to elementary and secondary schools.”

For the past several years, that document had been replaced by a note declaring that the policy had been withdrawn. The Bush policy is now published in full, with no note attached. It reaffirmed its view in 2016 after a Supreme Court ruling that said that schools could consider race as one factor among many.

In that case, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a white woman claimed she was denied admission because of her race, in part because the university had a program that admitted significant numbers of minorities who ranked in the top 10 percent of their class.

“It remains an enduring challenge to our nation’s education system to reconcile the pursuit of diversity with the constitutional promise of equal treatment and dignity,” Justice Kennedy wrote for the 4-3 majority.

The Trump administration’s plan would scrap the existing policies and encourage schools not to consider race at all. The new policy would not have the force of law, but it amounts to the official view of the federal government. School officials who keep their admissions policies intact would do so knowing that they could face a Justice Department investigation or lawsuit, or lose federal funding from the Education Department.

A senior Justice Department official pushed back against the idea that these decisions are about rolling back protections for minorities. He said they are hewing the department closer to the letter of the law.

He noted that rolling back guidance is not the same thing as a change of law, so that the decision to rescind technically would not have a legal effect on how the government defends or challenges affirmative-action related issues.

The move comes at a moment when conservatives see an opportunity to dismantle affirmative action.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said his prosecutors will investigate and sue universities over discriminatory admissions policies. And the conservative-backed lawsuit against Harvard is being pushed by the same group, the Project on Fair Representation, that pressed Fisher.

 

After years of denying that the Koch Foundation exercised control of hiring and firing professors by giving millions of dollars, George Mason University was compelled by the release of documents to admit that it was true. 

“Virginia’s largest public university granted the conservative Charles Koch Foundation a say in the hiring and firing of professors in exchange for millions of dollars in donations, according to newly released documents.

“The release of donor agreements between George Mason University and the foundation follows years of denials by university administrators that Koch foundation donations inhibit academic freedom.

“University President Angel Cabrera wrote a note to faculty Friday night saying the agreements “fall short of the standards of academic independence I expect any gift to meet.” The admission came three days after a judge scrutinized the university’s earlier refusal to release any documents.

”The newly released agreements spell out million-dollar deals in which the Koch Foundation endows a fund to pay the salary of one or more professors at the university’s Mercatus Center, a free-market think tank. The agreements require creation of five-member selection committees to choose the professors and grant the donors the right to name two of the committee members.

“The Koch Foundation enjoyed similar appointment rights to advisory boards that had the right under the agreements to recommend firing a professor who failed to live up to standards.

“Cabrera emphasized in his note to faculty that the “agreements did not give donors control over academic decisions” — an apparent reference to the fact that the Koch Foundation did not control a majority of seats on the selection committees.

“A university spokesman said Cabrera was unavailable for an interview. On Monday night, Cabrera issued a statement saying he is ordering a review of all the university’s donor agreements that support faculty positions to “ensure that they do not grant donors undue influence in academic matters.”

“Cabrera’s admission that the agreements fall short of standards for academic independence is a stark departure from his earlier statements on the issue. In a 2014 blog post on the issue, he wrote that donors don’t get to decide who is hired and that “these rules are an essential part of our academic integrity. If these rules are not acceptable, we simply don’t accept the gift. Academic freedom is never for sale. Period.”

“In 2016, in an interview with The Associated Press, he denied that the Koch donations restricted academic independence and said Koch’s status as a lightning rod for his support of Republican candidates is the only reason people question the donations.

 “The documents were released to a former student, Samantha Parsons, under a Freedom of Information Act request she filed earlier this year after years of having similar requests rejected.“Parsons, who now works for the activist group UnKoch My Campus, said the documents are strikingly similar to agreements the Koch Foundation made with Florida State University that caused a similar uproar.

“She said provisions giving the foundation a say in which professors are chosen are especially alarming.

“The faculty is supposed to have the independence to choose the best-qualified candidate,” she said.”

The University recently renamed its law school for the late conservative Supreme Justice Antonin Scalia. This occurred following a Koch gift of $10 Million, plus $20 Million from an anonymous donor.

Some 300 colleges have accepted Koch funding.

When Duke historian Nancy MacLean wrote “Democracy in Chains,” criticizing the Koch-funded economist James Buchanan, she was viciously attacked by libertarians for her portrayal of Buchanan as anti-democratic and unduly influenced by Koch libertarianism. She must be smiling as the mask of impartial scholarship is stripped away by student activists.

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2017/12/07/big-money-rules/

 

Joanne Yatvin has been a teacher, a principal, a superintendent, president of the National Council for Teachers of English, and a literacy expert.

This is her Christmas wish.

As this year ends I have chosen to pretend that I am Santa Claus for public education. I would come into all our public schools carrying a heavy sack, filled with all the goodies that children, teachers and parents need and deserve.

Afterward I’d be so tired that I will have to rest until January 1st 2018, while all of you will be dreaming of the goodies soon to come.

I’d Love to Be Your Santa Claus

By Joanne Yatvin

First of all, I will sweep out all the junk that has been piling up in classrooms for several years. All the test-prep sessions, the tests and their scores, the unreasonable standards, and the negative judgments on schools, students, and teachers that emanated from them will be gone forever.

Next, I will herd together all the politicians, decision makers, and clueless experts who have made the stupid rules for students and schools, and banish them from power once and for all.

Finally, I will erase all the laws that that have hamstrung good teachers and principals for years and allowed decent schools to be shut down because of their low-test scores.

Then, after catching my breath and cleaning the dirt from my hands, I will bring in all the wonderful gifts I have dreamed into existence, and spread them around all public school offices, teachers’ lounges, and students’ classrooms.

Try to envision each gift as I describe it below.

Golden links between each school and its community

Hearty projects growing and blooming in every classroom

Neat Package of well equipped classrooms with no more than 25 students in each one

Sweet tastes of recesses, physical education and interesting classroom activities every day

Endless piles of Gold coins to fund every school

Glowing and strong librarians with books stuffed in their arms

Crowds of well-educated teachers and principals with magic wands in every school

A huge variety of silver-studded classes for students to choose from

Afterward I will jump back into my sleigh and call out “Happy learning to all and to all a good life.”

Astrophysicist and author Ethan Siegel writes in Forbes magazine about the way that federal policies have disrespected and demoralized passionate teachers. No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and the Every Student Succeeds Act have been disasters for teaching and learning.

Every sentence in this short article is priceless, and I hate to abridge it. You will have to open the link and read it yourself in its entirety.

He writes:

The ultimate dream of public education is incredibly simple. Students, ideally, would go to a classroom, receive top-notch instruction from a passionate, well-informed teacher, would work hard in their class, and would come away with a new set of skills, talents, interests, and capabilities. Over the past few decades in the United States, a number of education reforms have been enacted, designed to measure and improve student learning outcomes, holding teachers accountable for their students’ performances. Despite these well-intentioned programs, including No Child Left Behind, Race To The Top, and the Every Student Succeeds Act, public education is more broken than ever. The reason, as much as we hate to admit it, is that we’ve disobeyed the cardinal rule of success in any industry: treating your workers like professionals.

Everyone who’s been through school has had experiences with a wide variety of teachers, ranging from the colossally bad to the spectacularly good. There are a few qualities universally ascribed to the best teachers, and the lists almost always include the following traits:

*a passion for their chosen subject,
*a deep, expert-level knowledge of the subject matter they’re teaching,
*a willingness to cater to a variety of learning styles and to employ a variety of educational techniques,
*and a vision for what a class of properly educated students would be able to know and demonstrate at the end of the academic year.

Yet despite knowing what a spectacular teacher looks like, the educational models we have in place actively discourage every one of these.

The first and largest problem is that every educational program we’ve had in place since 2002 — the first year that No Child Left Behind took effect — prioritizes student performance on standardized tests above all else. Test performance is now tied to both school funding, and the evaluation of teachers and administrators. In many cases, there exists no empirical evidence to back up the validity of this approach, yet it’s universally accepted as the way things ought to be…

If your goal was to achieve the greatest learning outcome possible for each of your students, what would you need to be successful? You’d need the freedom to decide what to teach, how to teach it, how to evaluate and assess your students, and how to structure your classroom and curriculum. You’d need the freedom to make individualized plans or separate plans for students who were achieving at different levels. You’d need the resources — financial, time, and support resources — to maximize the return on your efforts. In short, you’d need the same thing that any employee in any role needs: the freedom and flexibility to assess your own situation, and make empowered decisions…

Like any job involving an interaction with other people, teaching is as much of an art as it is a science. By taking away the freedom to innovate, we aren’t improving the outcomes of the worst teachers or even average teachers; we’re simply telling the good ones that their skills and talents aren’t needed here. By refusing to treat teachers like professionals — by failing to empower them to teach students in the best way that they see fit — we demonstrate the simple fact that we don’t trust them to do a good job, or even to understand what doing a good job looks like. Until we abandon the failed education model we’ve adopted since the start of the 21st century, public education will continue to be broken. As long as we insist on telling teachers what to teach and how to teach it, we’ll continue to fail our children.

Heidi Schauble describes her disheartening experience as a student at the University of Washington at Bothell, when she signed up for an education policy course and found that her instructors worked for the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CPRE). CPRE is a major advocate of the “portfolio” model for school districts, wherein the school board treats its schools like a stock portfolio, keeping the good ones and getting rid of the bad ones. It advocates on behalf of charter schools. Schauble refers to CPRE as an “anti-public education think tank.” It might be more accurate to call it an advocacy group, not a think tank.

The amazing aspect of this article is that the author had sufficient information to question what she was taught and to know that she was getting a one-sided presentation.

Here is an excerpt. It is worth reading in full:

As a UW student, who signed up for the only “Education Policy” elective offered in my program, I learned first-hand how CRPE views public education, and witnessed first-hand how they conduct their own classroom.

Robin Lake and Bethany Grove, the co-instructors of the CRPE course, presented the argument that business models were more equitable and efficient than traditional public schools, and that the only way to reform education was to dismantle it and replace it with charters that will constantly open and close according to their “results”. The goal was never “better schools overall”. The goal was the ability to close “bad” schools.

These instructors argued the education system is supposed to have mixed results, to compare outcomes (test scores), and shut down “ineffective” schools; they argue that it is good to create a continuous, responsive cycle for “improvement”. They argue that public institutions are too bureaucratic, too slow to change and adapt to the 21st century. Their goal is to privatize public education.

Robin and Bethany, the instructors of the CRPE course, blamed teachers, parents and students in the process of demonizing public education. They didn’t mention the factors of poverty or low school funding, nor did they mention budget cuts or how since Federal education policies from No Child Left Behind, and every version since then, drain resources from public education. According to Robin and Bethany, “money doesn’t make a difference and we need to stop throwing it at education”. When have we ever done this?

That quarter, we read from business models how shutting down and “starting from a clean slate” was the best way to turn around failing businesses. We did not read a single piece of educational literature that did not come directly out of CRPE. I was shocked..

I don’t doubt that these two upper middle class white women care a great deal about children like theirs. I do doubt CRPE’s ability to question their unwavering faith in Neo-Liberal Market reform.

How material is taught is just as important as the curriculum itself. Does the instructor value debate as a tool of learning? Or is repetition of subject material the leading indicator of learning?

I recall watching “Waiting for Superman” in previous classes. This video is a popular marketing tool for Charter Reformers. One of the central arguments of the video, is that students are currently taught as passive recipients of knowledge. Where the teacher is the ultimate authority and attempts to “dump” knowledge; rather that teaching students to engage with material.

If the fundamental argument of Charter reformers is that you can break up the “bureaucracy” and “monopoly” of public ed so that teachers are able to engage with students; why are their reformers teaching in the very authoritarian style they critique?

Education International, which represents teachers unions around the world, issued a bulletin about disturbing developments in Liberia, which threaten freedom of research about the performance of corporate outsourced schools.

EI wrote in a letter I received:

“As you would be aware, just over 12 months ago, in an unprecedented move, the Government of Liberia announced its intention to out-source its entire primary and pre-primary school system to Bridge International Academies in 5 tranches.

“As a result of considerable opposition to the announcement, the Government announced a one year pilot program called Partnership Schools Liberia (PSL) involving 8 actors operating 93 schools.

“At the time of the announcement, the Government gave a number of assurances, including that the pilot would be subject to a rigorous evaluation.

“Approximately 6 weeks ago, less than 6 months into the “trial”, the Minister announced that he was preparing to announce a scale-up of the PSL without waiting for the outcome of the evaluation.

“On 18 May, in a further disturbing move, the Minister blocked an independent research team from the University of Wisconsin from conducting qualitative research into the PSL by denying them access to schools.”

Here is the letter:

AN OPEN LETTER TO GEORGE WERNER, MINISTER OF EDUCATION, LIBERIA

We are writing to express deep concern about both your reluctance to permit independent research of the Partnership Schools for Liberia pilot programme and your rush to expand the pilot before evidence is available.

Education International, with support from ActionAid, commissioned an independent research team from the University of Wisconsin to conduct qualitative research which was designed to complement the Randomised Control Trial evaluation that is already underway in Liberia with the Center for Global Development (CGD) in partnership with Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA). We understand that, having indicated your support for this complementary research, you withdrew that support at the last moment (just as the researchers were due to fly to Liberia) and will not now permit the researchers to access the pilot schools.

The Partnership Schools for Liberia pilot has a very high profile internationally and warrants detailed study. We understand that a lot has been invested in the RCT evaluation, but no single evaluation, however well-designed, will ever provide a comprehensive picture of a pilot programme as complex as the one you have initiated. By blocking independent research you are depriving the academic and policy community important opportunities to fully understand this pilot.

It is our view that permitting and facilitating independent academic inquiry is a precondition for transparency and good governance, particularly when you are seeking to challenge established practices and norms.

You will be aware of the widespread concerns about how Bridge International Academies blocked independent research in Uganda and have failed to allow external evaluation of their schools whilst making bold claims for their success based on their own internal data. This is very poor practice and we would be very concerned if the Ministry of Education in Liberia played a role in extending such practices.

Our second major area of concern relates to your plans to scale up the initial pilot programme even before findings from the evaluation and research come through. You have previously gone on record stressing that any scaling up would be subject to the findings from the initial pilot programme (over three years) but from the latest reports it seems you are now planning a significant expansion from September 2017, without any of those findings being ready. This flies in the face of evidence-based policy making and suggests that you are only paying lip-service to the importance of research and evaluation. Such a move makes the pilot programme appear to be one driven largely by ideology. Indeed it undermines the RCT evaluation as well as the value of any complementary research.

We urge you to move away from this present damaging path, to reassert the importance of using evidence to inform your policy choices and to commit publically to supporting and facilitating independent research at the start of the new school year in September.

Yours sincerely