Archives for category: Administrators, superintendents

Lisa Haver is a retired teacher and prominent advocate for the public schools of Philadelphia. Those public schools have been subject to state takeover, privatization, and every other failed reformy tactic. She hoped that those bad old days were over. They are not. The new board hired an inexperienced superintendent who needed the help of a much-criticized consulting firm at a cost of $450,000.

She expressed her frustration in this article.

After years of pain and frustration that included the closing of neighborhood schools, privatization driven by standardized tests, crumbling infrastructure, and more than one debacle, the people of Philadelphia were psyched for new leadership in the school district.

The door to new priorities seemed to open with the arrival of Tony Watlington as the next superintendent.

But that door slammed shut before his tenure had even begun with the news that he’d brought in a Tennessee-based consulting firm to help him navigate his first year in the job. In May, the Board of Education voted unanimously and without deliberation to approve a one-year contract with Joseph & Associates. Price tag: $450,000. The board approved this contract — the last on a list of 92 official items — near the end of an 8-hour meeting.

According to a recent Chalkbeat article, the board hired the consulting firm to help Watlington “connect with people,” assist in assembling his transition team, and develop a 5-year plan for the district. Watlington said he asked for the contract so he could “hit the ground running by Day 1,” according to The Inquirer.

Apparently, Watlington decided the district’s current leadership of 16 department chiefs and 15 assistant superintendents could not help him do that, and that people from Tennessee could educate him about the district’s history and needs better than the people who live and work in Philly.

The Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools, the organization I co-founded, has reported on and analyzed the spending priorities of the district since 2012. We intended to ask the board directly why they hired Joseph & Associates, but all five APPS members who tried to sign up to speak at the June meeting were denied.

Last winter, in public town halls held for the three superintendent finalists, Watlington told parents, students, and educators he had a plan and wanted to meet with district stakeholders to hear their concerns. He didn’t say he could only do that by hiring an out-of-town consulting firm at a price higher than his own $340,000 salary.

The first official act of the new administration signals a continuation of those before him: hiring consultants and outsourcing work that should be done by district personnel. Sending resources into classrooms remains on the back burner.

The scope of the Joseph & Associates contract raises concerns for families and public education advocates for a number of reasons. Watlington said he wants the consultants to help him assess how the district can best meet the board’s “Goals and Guardrails” — a set of priorities based on standardized test data. This approach does not lend itself to creative learning or teaching. The Watlington administration should commit to funding proven reforms: smaller class size, more support staff, and reinstating school librarians.

But it’s the final phase of the Joseph & Associates contract that should sound the alarm for defenders of public education: the compilation of a 5-year “strategic plan” for the district. Many recall what happened a decade ago after the last long-range plan from an outside firm, the Boston Consulting Group: school closings and more privatization of neighborhood schools. Any plan that determines the future of the district and its ramifications for families and neighborhoods should be discussed and formulated in public meetings — not the private boardrooms of an out-of-state consulting firm.

Amy Frogge was president of the Nashville Board of Education. She is a public school parent and a lawyer. She heard that Philadelphia had hired a new superintendent and was paying $450,000 to a consulting firm to train the new superintendent. When she learned that the consulting firm was led by the former superintendent in Nashville, she wrote a letter of warning to the Philadelphia board. They ignored it. She decided to write one more letter, to be sure the Philadelphia board was fully informed. Now, it’s their problem.

From: Amy Frogge <amymfrogge@yahoo.com>

To: jwilkerson@philasd.org <jwilkerson@philasd.org>; lehinton@philasd.org <lehinton@philasd.org>; jdanzy@philasd.org <jdanzy@philasd.org>; mfixlopez@philasd.org <mfixlopez@philasd.org>; lsalley@philasd.org <lsalley@philasd.org>; cethompson@philasd.org <cethompson@philasd.org>; schoolboard@philasd.org <schoolboard@philasd.org>

Sent: Friday, July 1, 2022, 10:56:51 AM CDT

Subject: Joseph and Associates: A concise summary of what you are paying for in Philadelphia (with documentation).

Hi, everyone-

I hope this will be my last email to your board.

I’ve been sharing a lot of information on Twitter about the disaster that hit Nashville under Shawn Joseph’s leadership, but it appears that at least some of you are not active on Twitter. I want to make sure that you are fully apprised of what happened in Nashville as you move forward.

Here’s what happened in Nashville under Shawn Joseph’s leadership (with articles for your review as proof of my allegations):

1. The number of priority (low performing) schools nearly doubled. https://www.newschannel5.com/news/newschannel-5-investigates/metro-schools/number-of-troubled-nashville-schools-shows-dramatic-increase

2. We paid out millions upon millions in sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuits. https://www.newschannel5.com/news/newschannel-5-investigates/new-settlements-put-mnps-sexual-harassment-bills-near-2-million (The $2 million mentioned in this article was not the final tally; the cost continued to increase.)

3. We had major and ongoing problems with no-bid contracts for preferred vendors (costing millions), sometimes even for services that went unused. https://www.newschannel5.com/news/newschannel-5-investigates/what-did-mnps-get-for-1-million-potentially-not-much

4. Joseph and his team broke the law and misled the school board to put these contracts in place. https://www.kshb.com/news/national/nashville-schools-investigation-by-wtvf-contracts-law

5. We had an independent HR report done that identified an employee morale crisis, cronyism and “unconscionable” practices. https://www.newschannel5.com/news/newschannel-5-investigates/mnps-faces-morale-crisis-confidential-report-warns

6. Here’s what an award-winning HR executive had to say: https://www.newschannel5.com/news/newschannel-5-investigates/metro-schools/former-mnps-administrator-its-almost-as-if-isis-took-over-hr

7. Another respected Metro Nashville Schools employee on the HR problems:https://www.newschannel5.com/news/newschannel-5-investigates/metro-schools/administrator-accuses-mnps-of-pay-discrimination-retaliation

8. Dr. Joseph brought former Baltimore superintendent Dallas Dance, whom he claimed as a mentor, to Nashville to serve as a member of his Transition Team. Months later Dance was indicted on charges related to kickbacks on no-bid contracts. He went to prison. https://www.edweek.org/leadership/former-baltimore-county-superintendent-pleads-guilty-to-perjury-tied-to-kickback-scheme/2018/03

9. Around the time Joseph left Nashville, the state of TN recommended suspending Joseph’s professional educator’s license, which was required in his position as superintendent. https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/education/2019/03/26/state-education-board-seeks-disciplinary-action-against-nashville-schools-chief-shawn-joseph/3279612002/

10. Joseph’s license to work in Tennessee was later suspended. (Per the General Counsel for the Tennessee State Board of Education (via email): “Mr. Joseph’s license was previously suspended.”)

11. There was a lot more, too much to include in this thread, but this gives you a flavor: https://www.newschannel5.com/news/newschannel-5-investigates/what-you-need-to-know-about-shawn-josephs-controversies

12. Here’s some information on the national angle (that mentions Joseph): https://www.alternet.org/2019/09/another-school-leadership-disaster-private-companies-work-an-insider-game-to-reap-lucrative-contracts/

13. And this (also mentions Joseph): https://www.salon.com/2019/10/20/how-billionaire-charter-school-funders-corrupted-the-school-leadership-pipeline_partner/

After reading all of this, do you still think Tony Watlington needs advice from Shawn Joseph? I hope this dispels any questions about whether what you are hearing is misinformation.

As you can see, if you continue to move forward with Joseph and Associates, the $450,000 will be just the tip of the iceberg on spending.

Three Nashville school board members have now spoken with the media to warn Philadelphia against the use of Joseph and Associates. Any of us — and many more from Nashville — would be happy to share more about our experiences with you.

Philadelphia’s children are counting on you, and they deserve so much better. I wish you all the best of luck.

Amy Frogge, former Chair of the Nashville school board

The Philadelphia School Board hired an inexperienced school superintendent, then signed a contract to pay $450,000 to a firm to train the new superintendent. Former Nashville school board member Amy Frogge wrote an open letter to the Philadelphia school board, warning about the track record and failures of the consultant they hired.

The Philadelphia Inquirer published this editorial.

From the start, questions surrounded new Philadelphia School Superintendent Tony B. Watlington Sr.’s readiness for one of the toughest and most important jobs in the city.

Watlington only had a little over a year of experienceas a superintendent at the Rowan-Salisbury School System, a small suburban district in North Carolina.

With 114,000 students, the Philadelphia School District is more than five times the size of Rowan-Salisbury’s 18,200 students. Philadelphia’s $3.9 billion school budget dwarfs Rowan-Salisbury’s $191 million.

Watlington spent his career in North Carolina, a right-to-work state with nonunion schools. But Philadelphia is an entrenched union city and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers is known for driving hard bargains and challenging major reforms.

Now comes word that the School District hired a group of consultants to essentially help Watlington do a job for which he is paid $340,000 a year. In turn, 10 consultants are getting an eye-popping $450,000 to support Watlington and “ensure a smooth leadership transition as he begins his tenure.”

That’s some high-priced hand-holding. It is also an ominous start for Watlington, which signals he may not be ready for the big time.

More troubling, one of the lead consultants — the Tennessee-based firm Joseph & Associates — comes with a trail of controversy. The firm’s founder, Shawn Joseph, served as the superintendent of the Metro Nashville public school system for less than three years before the school board bought out his contract in 2019.

During Joseph’s tenure in Nashville, questions were raised about costlyno-bid contracts, his use of a school bus driver as his chauffeur, and a school maintenance employee doing work at Joseph’s home. After Joseph left, Tennessee education officials recommended suspending his state license for one year.

After hearing about Joseph’s consulting contract, a former Nashville school board member wrote a letter to Philadelphia school officials saying she was “deeply disturbed” by the contract and warned the district about Joseph.

Joseph’s consulting contract with the Philadelphia School District calls for him to help Watlington execute “a 100-day entry plan,” which will include a listening and learning tour of Philadelphia. So, the guy from Tennessee is going to help the guy from North Carolina find his way around Philly.

Phase two of the contract calls for Joseph’s firm to help Watlington develop and implement “a transition team process informed by the quantitative and qualitative data gathered” during the listening tour.

“So, the guy from Tennessee is going to help the guy from North Carolina find his way around Philly.”

Phase three of the contract calls for Joseph’s firm to help Watlington develop a five-year strategic plan that “will serve as the district’s road map to achieve the goals and guardrails.”

That’s all well and good, but the three-step plan amounts to little more than the basic tasks of any incoming superintendent. The existing staff at the School District should be able to show Watlington around Philadelphia and his executive team can help develop a five-year plan.

Watlington defended the $450,000 consulting contract, but it still sounds like a giant waste of taxpayers’ money. The School District should look to end this contract immediately. If Philadelphia is serious about improving educational outcomes of students, it should look to Washington, D.C., which has made impressive gains in student test scores largely by improving the quality of teachers.

If Watlington wants Joseph’s help, he can read Joseph’s book titled “The Principal’s Guide to the First 100 Days of the School Year: Creating Instructional Momentum.” It’s available on Amazon for $29.95. That’s a better deal than the $450,000 consulting contract.

By all accounts, Watlington comes across as a dedicated educator. But the Philadelphia School District needs a dynamic leader with a track record of success who can hit the ground running. Not one who requires an overpriced consultant to perform on-the-job training.

South Carolina’s public schools, teachers, and students are in for some tough times. Republicans went to the polls and selected a rightwing ideologue as their candidate for state superintendent. Ellen Weaver does not have the master’s degree that state law requires the state chief to have. She has signed up to get a master’s in “Christian Leadership” at Bob Jones University and expects to get her degree in eight months.

Weaver has made her hostility to public schools and professional teachers clear. She (and the SC media) refer to education professionals as “the education establishment.”

Ellen Weaver, president and CEO of the Palmetto Promise Institute, handily defeated teachers advocate Kathy Maness in Tuesday’s GOP primary runoff, a development with potentially major implications for the state’s public schools…

Weaver, who does not currently meet the statutory requirements to hold officebecause she lacks an advanced degree, has cast herself as a bold reformer fighting to eradicate liberal ideologies like so-called critical race theory that she claims are seeping into public education.

“The fight to save our schools is a fight to save that American dream for the next generation,” she said at a debate last week. “If we don’t stand in the gap for our kids and against the wokeism and sexualization agendas that are coming out of Washington, we have lost our country.”

Weaver will face Democrat Lisa Ellis, a Richland 2 teacher and student activities director, in the general election. Ellis, who is best known for founding the grassroots teachers organization SC for Ed, won the Democratic primary outright earlier this month.

Weaver refers to a master’s degree as “letters behind your name.” Presumably, at a better time, when politicians weren’t putting a wrecking ball to public education, they set that qualification there to assure that the state superintendent was an experienced educator, not an ideologue who is contemptuous of the state’s most important public institution.

Sadly, South Carolina got the kind of leader that the law was supposed to bar. Teachers are upset about what happens next, as well they should be.

South Carolina needs a leader who will fight for more funding, especially for its most vulnerable children. If Weaver beats her Democratic opponent, the state will have a leader who dabbles in nonsense about race and gender instead of improving the schools.

If you are a parent, a teacher, or a concerned citizen, help elect Lisa Ellis. She’s a teacher, she has experience, she knows what students need and will fight for it.

The Boston Public School board selected a new superintendent. She is Mary Skipper, who has had many years of teaching experience in Boston and is currently superintendent of the Somerville, Mass., district.

Currently the head of Somerville Public Schools, Skipper will take over at a crucial juncture for Boston, which only days ago fended off a state takeover by agreeing to a long list of improvements that she will now be charged with seeing through. She narrowly edged out the other finalist, BPS regional superintendent Tommy Welch, in a 4-3 vote.

The 55-year-old Skipper previously worked in Boston for nearly two decades, teaching Latin at Boston Latin Academy before working her way from principal to district administrator overseeing three dozen high schools. She earned a reputation for innovations at a high school she previously led. A decade ago, then-president Barack Obama held up Skipper’s school, TechBoston Academy, as a national model when he delivered a speech there.

She’s been superintendent of the roughly 4,700-student Somerville district since 2015.

Skipper was not available for comment after the vote. But she previously has said that teachers were surrogate parents to her, playing a deep role in her life, so she felt teaching was something she needed to do.

The job she’s stepping into has already been largely redefined by an agreement finalized this week between Mayor Michelle Wu and state Education Commissioner Jeff Riley, who had threatened to label the district as “underperforming.” In exchange for maintaining autonomy and the district’s reputation, Skipper will have to carry out a long list of mandates from a district improvement plan agreed upon Monday that aims to overhaul special education, services for English learners, and transportation, among other things…

Skipper’s selection could carry some risk for the district, since she’s not available to take over full time in Boston until late September, after the deadline for completing 10 of 24 action steps required by the joint agreement for improving Boston’s schools…

Skipper will also have to overcome frustration from some community members that the superintendent search did not yield Black or Latino finalists. Civil rights leaders and education advocates called on district leaders to halt the vote or extend the process after the search committee presented only two finalists; Skipper is white and Welch is an Asian American.

Two other would-be finalists, a Black woman and a Latina, withdrew before the list was finalized and made public. The panel overseeing the search selected Skipper and Welch from a field of 34 applicants.

Amy Frogge is a parent of children in the Nashville public schools, a lawyer, and served two terms on the Metro Nashville school board. When she read in Chalkbeat that the Philadelphia school board had hired a consulting firm to advise its new superintendent, she was stunned. The consulting firm would be paid a fee of $450,000 for its advice. But what stunned her was that the firm was operated by the former Superintendent of Nashville, who had left under a cloud. This was the same superintendent who brought to Nashville a leadership team that included former Baltimore County superintendent Dallas Dance. Shortly after Dance was brought to Nashville, he was convicted and imprisoned on charges relating to consulting fees on a no-bid contract, which he lied about on financial disclosures.

Frogge sent the following letter to Philadelphia school board members:

Good morning-

My name is Amy Frogge. I am an attorney and former eight-year member of the Metro Nashville school board, where I served as both Vice Chair and Chair. 

I was deeply disturbed to see that your school district has entered into a contract with Joseph and Associates: https://philadelphia.chalkbeat.org/2022/6/21/23177395/consulting-firm-will-get-450000-to-help-new-philly-superintendent This article includes comments from two Nashville board members who claim that Shawn Joseph left our school district merely due to personality conflicts, when nothing could be further from the truth.

I know the contract has been finalized, but I am reaching out to you as a warning. When Joseph arrived in Nashville, his former supervisor from another school district reached out to me as well, and I wish I had heeded the warnings. I voted to hire him and remained his strong supporter until I finally realized what was happening behind the scenes.

When Shawn Joseph and his team arrived in Nashville, we were hit by millions of dollars in no-bid contracts and an array unqualified, highly paid consultants. Unauthorized purchasing increased sevenfold, which meant Joseph and his team were not following proper contract procedures. Joseph negotiated contracts in violation of state law, and he could not account for the spending of $1.5 million on a no-bid contract that he awarded to someone he knew and brought with him from another school district. He repeatedly misled the school board and split contracts so that they would not come to the board for approval. In addition, our district endured what was described as a “morale crisis,” and the school board had to hire an independent firm to assess the district’s new Human Resources department. It concluded that employee morale was the lowest it had ever been and that Joseph’s team was engaging in “unconscionable” practices. By the time Joseph left, the state recommended revocation of his state license. This is all just the tip of the iceberg. Here is a short summary of just some of the problems we encountered: https://www.newschannel5.com/news/newschannel-5-investigates/what-you-need-to-know-about-shawn-josephs-controversies There is much more. I have never before or after experienced such corruption and dysfunction.

Shawn Joseph’s severance agreement included a gag order for school board members to prevent us from speaking even truthfully about our experiences. Three of us had to sue to remove the clause from agreement, and we just won the lawsuit. That is the reason I am able to reach out to you today.

I just attended an education conference in your lovely city, and I hate to see Philadelphia go down the same path. I would be happy to speak with any of you about our experiences. Please feel free to call or email me.

Amy Frogge

Steve Dackin, who began his job as State Superintendent one month ago, has resigned. Questions were raised about his selection since he was chair of the search committee. Dackin said the controversy was a distraction from the work.

Anyone from Ohio want to shed more light?

Why do people run for school board in their local community?

It has never been a more perilous time to be a school board member. When the pandemic began, local school boards bore responsibility for whether to open or close schools, whether or not to require masks. Whichever decision they made, a sizable number of parents were sure to be angry.

School board meetings in some communities became scenes of outrage and heated exchanges. Then came the manufactured claims that schools were rife with “critical race theory” and inappropriate sex education, and school boards were again under fire. Extremists set a goal of seizing control of local school boards, but have been largely unsuccessful. Here and there, a local school board capitulated to or even led the cries for censorship and book banning.

But most local boards have remained steady as a bedrock of grassroots democracy. Ninety-five percent of school districts are governed by an elected school board. Privatizers and disrupters would love to abolish them all and turn the nation’s schools over to corporate management organizations. But as long as there are local school boards, they must stand for re-election and face the voters in their district.

Given the intemperate attacks on public schools, on school boards, and on our democracy, we owe them our thanks for their service to our communities.

Lawrence A. Feinberg wrote the following tribute to local school board members. He is a passionate advocate for public schools, who has served on his local school board in Pennsylvania for 22 years.

He writes:

“The short answer on why people want to run (for school board) these days is because we are out of our . . . minds.” That was my answer back in May of 2011, long before COVID, when the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Anthony Wood asked me why folks would consider seeking school board seats.

I first ran for the school board in 1999, and then five times more because I believe that public education is the foundation of our democracy and that our mission is to create informed American/Global citizens.

Asked a similar question on a League of Women Voters Zoom panel last month, my colleague, friend and former William Penn School District Board President Jennifer Hoff had a clear, concise answer: “the kids.”

Why would anyone want such a thankless, unpaid role? Here area few reasons:

• To get to shake hands with hundreds of graduating seniors who were in kindergarten when I was first elected.

• To hear elementary students speak eloquently and effusively at a public meeting about the character development initiative in their school.

• To read to elementary school students on Read Across America Day.

• To see and hear, year in and year out, innumerable opportunities and accomplishments for and by students in the arts, music, theatre, robotics, culinary arts, industrial arts, medical trades, community service, athletics, countless clubs and activities, student publications and academics.

• To listen to teams of students demonstrate and describe their science experiments.

• To watch our Best Buddies Unified Bocce team (that includes students with and without special needs) in action and to see them get statewide recognition.

• To see students learn to respect and value their similarities and their differences.

• To see our students register their peers to vote.

• To see our graduates move on successfully to college and careers.

• To marvel at the professionalism, dedication, patience and competency of administrators, teachers and support staff and their clear, constant focus on what is best for kids.

There is no denying that the past two years have not been easy for our school communities. For myself and most of my school director peers throughout the state, our attitude has been to assume that everyone has good intentions and wants what is best for their kids, and to treat others with the same level of respect, civility and dignity that we would like to be treated with.

A profound thank you to all Pennsylvania school directors for their dedicated volunteer public service to their students, communities, taxpayers and school districts.

Special thanks to all our superintendents, administrators, and principals, many of whom worked 24/7 throughout the pandemic in the face of immense challenges.

And thanks to all our teachers, aides and all staff – nurses, counselors, social workers, mechanics, bus drivers, custodians, office personnel, food service workers and librarians. Thank you!

Lawrence A. Feinberg is serving his 22nd year as a school director in Haverford Township, Delaware County. Currently board vice president, he served as board president from 2017 through 2021. He has been an active advocate for public education at the local, regional, state and federal levels.

This commentary was first published by the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.

Denis Smith retired from the Ohio Department of Education, where he worked in the charter school office and saw fraud after fraud. Ohio’s charter schools (which the state calls “community schools,” which they are not) are unusually low-performing; a large number are failing schools.

Smith wrote about the scandalous selection of the new state superintendent in the Ohio Capital Journal.

Smith writes:

At its May meeting, the State Board of Education voted to employ Steve Dackin as Ohio’s new Superintendent of Public Instruction. But the hiring of the veteran school administrator has raised some concerns that require further reflection.

The state board’s decision occurred in the middle of National Charter Schools Week and prompted questions about the processes used in the appointment and the search that led up to the board’s action.  

To those familiar with the behavior of some charter school boards, where the members are usually hand-picked by the school’s operating company and where tales of conflicts of interest and self-dealing are legion, the state board’s action will need to be more closely examined lest it acquire the same reputation of so many conflicted charter school boards.

In covering the search process and appointment of a new state superintendent of schools, the Cleveland Plain Dealer summarized the situation succinctly:

“Steve Dackin was vice president of the State Board of Education and led the search for a vacant superintendent position before resigning and applying for the job three days later. The deadline to apply was the following day.”

You don’t have to read that Plain Dealer paragraph again to realize there was something wrong in the practices of a state board that allowed a board member to conduct the search for a superintendent, resign so that he could apply at the deadline for the position, add his resume to those already received from other candidates, and then months later be hired for the very position he oversaw as vice president of the board and head of the search committee that was charged with filling the position.

If a public board is concerned about optics, its actions might demonstrate that in addition to suffering from myopia, it’s also tone deaf as shown by its hiring of the new state superintendent.

Catherine Turcer, who directs Common Cause Ohio, an organization which promotes “transparency and accountability in government,” also examined the process that led up to Dackin’s candidacy and had concerns.

“The thing that’s important about this is that we have as much transparency as possible so that we can understand what happened and whether he was attempting to get himself the job inappropriately,” she said. “Right now, we have a lot of questions and things look odd. It’s not enough to do the pro forma, ‘I put my resignation in before I applied.’ You dotted one ‘i’ but what about all the ‘t’s?’ she told the Plain Dealer.

The appointment of a new state superintendent during National Charter Schools Week drew praise from the state charter school lobby, including kind words from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an organization that promotes these publicly funded, privately operated, underregulated entities and, like the schools it promotes, is conflicted in its purposes. That makes Fordham a comfortable and perfect fit in the midst of charter world.

The conflict that is Fordham was described last year in the Ohio Capital Journal. Fordham serves simultaneously as a charter school authorizer, promoter, and so-called “think tank,” crafting studies that unsurprisingly promote public school privatization, which it calls school choice. But with all of its “think tank” research, apparently Fordham hasn’t studied one of the major design flaws in charter schools. 

That flaw doesn’t allow the democratic election of board members by qualified voters in a community. Instead, in many instances we have seen self-dealing by hand-picked board members, conflicts-of-interest by operators, and all of the ethical issues that surround organizations that are not fully transparent in their operations. 

The most classic example of this was seen several years ago, where the chairman of a charter school board was also a part-owner of the company which owned the building where the school was located. The school made an overpayment of $478,000 to the company without any board approval. A number of individuals associated with the charter school were indicted, including the school founder, his wife and brother, the board chairman and school treasurer.

Which brings us back to the recent action of the State Board of Education in choosing a new state superintendent.

Because of a history of scandal in the state charter school industry, where more than $1 billion in public funds alone went to ECOT in the largest online charter school scandal in the country, and where the wreckage of more than 300 closed Ohio charters have further depleted the state treasury due to lax oversight caused by few controls, the State Board of Education itself should not be acting like a challenged and conflicted charter school board with few rules, policies, or any sense of institutional memory. 

Moreover, the enthusiasm for Dackin’s appointment expressed by the charter school industry and the Fordham Institute should also raise even more concerns.

As someone who has experience in providing oversight of charter schools as well as service on non-profit boards, it is my view that the processes used in the Dackin appointment are troublesome. For example, some boards have policies that require at least a one-year separation by a board member before applying for employment with the organization. Such a board policy protects an organization and lessens the possibility of a conflict or self-dealing situation by any member. 

And what about the State Board of Education? Why isn’t there policy which prohibits the employment of a former board member for an extended period of time after separation from the board? For that matter, are there any state boards that have a “time-out” policy before a board or advisory committee member seeks employment?

The Ohio Ethics Commission and its three-page review of the situation before the state board’s hiring of the new superintendent was, to put it mildly, inadequate for the circumstances in the Dackin situation. The appearance of a conflict of interest or any ethical question related to actions that employ past board members recently separated from a public board should be a serious issue.

There is no doubt that the State Board of Education can do better at policy formulation and practice. So too can the Ohio Ethics Commission, which should start a discussion about strengthening its guidelines to go beyond minimalist interpretations of statute and offer more robust models to boards and public agencies that promote greater transparency and accountability. 

After all, a state public board by its actions should not mimic charter school boards that love to receive public money but hate regulation.

Billy Townsend reviews the tenure of Richard Corcoran as Florida’s State Commissioner of Education. His main qualification for the job, aside from his time as chair of the education committee in the state senate, is that he loathes public schools. He once said that he wanted to see every Florida student in a charter or voucher school.

Billy Townsend details his multiple failures. Be sure to open the link and read to the end. Watch the video, where Corcoran wrestles with his son on a brick floor, then throws him into the end of the pool, with the boy’s head barely missing the concrete coping. What an educator.

Townsend writes:

Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s general leadership incompetence defines him far more than his trolling.

The Department of Education’s corrupt, ongoing institutional collapse under his three-ish years of leadership testifies to what he would have done (or will do) to any college or university foolish enough to make him a president.

Any “business” he might start that doesn’t grift public money or collect and/or spend other people’s political donations is going to fail — if he runs it.

But Corcoran did have two great talents in his short, happy public life:

  • Convincing powerful people to breathe some of their power on him.
  • Getting the weird Florida media to confuse trolling and leant power with actual power and leadership and capability.

More of the same, just with more trolling

It’s difficult to evaluate Corcoran’s record as Speaker of the House and Education Commissioner because he had no real governing goals or ideology beyond self-interest and the perception of personal dominance in the moment.

Just mesmerizing the child-like DeSantis into paying him $276K for three years is a massive personal victory for Corcoran. One has to acknowledge that.

But under Corcoran’s “leadership,” Florida continued Jeb Bush’s catastrophic, longstanding failures of student test score growth, if that’s what you care about. He continued to shovel tax money and tax-sheltered corporate money into Florida’s “Endtimes Academy” style voucher schools, ignoring the 60 percent 2-year drop out rate of our signature voucher program. And he continued to worsen Florida’s teacher and education worker capacity shortages by making education work as miserable and poorly paid as possible.

But in all that, Corcoran’s not special. He’s just a mainstream Florida leader who talks a little more trash. All of that education failure is openly tolerated and/or celebrated quietly by the private interests that actually run Florida — your Disneys and Publixes and FPLs.

Anybody else DeSantis would have appointed would have indulged the same neglect and general grifting. It’s the institutional story of the last 25 years. Until that changes, you’ll get the same institutional results.

Perhaps the DoE organization and building itselfwon’t be a rotten, corrupt cesspool with a more competent Jebbie in charge; but the Florida state system as a whole is America’s worst because institutional and governing power wants it to be. Corcoran doesn’t have much to do with that. He just looks to scavenge that reality for himself and his buddies.