Archives for category: Competition

Ed Johnson lives in Atlanta and fights daily against the malignant competition and punishment inflicted on the children of Atlanta by the school board and superintendent. He shares the philosophy of W. Edwards Deming, who taught the importance of collaboration and teamwork.

He wrote this post and sent it to the school board:


Cyberattacks and competition
I have been under cyberattack for nearly a year, now.
First, it was attempted blackmail to “expose” me by making public an old username and password I used once to visit an “unsavory” website some 25 years ago.  I hear this blackmail tactic is quite common, and successful.
Well, blackmail didn’t work on me, so then came invading my computer and encrypting all personal files and holding the encrypted files hostage pending my paying the one bitcoin (~680 USD) ransom demand before I would be given the decryption key.
Well, holding my personal files hostage for ransom didn’t work on me, so then on 18 Dec 2018, there suddenly came a great flood of email notifications from subscription and online services all over the globe thanking me for having signed up.  Fraudulent signups continue to occur at the rate of around six or so per day.  The aim of the bountiful fraudulent signups seems to be the gamble that, in the fog of hurriedly unsubscribing the many services, one is bound to click on a Trojan Horse disguised as an “Unsubscribe” link.
Well, fraudulent subscriptions haven’t worked on me, so two days ago, this happened: My receiving notifications of Diane Ravitch blog posts had been blocked at, for crying out loud!
For the first time, I felt panicky.  No Diane Ravitch blog posts?!!  No, that can’t be!
But in the end that didn’t work on me, either.  Not for long, anyway.
So I remain a happy camper.
Even so, I guess we will always have some folk who have been taught and deeply conditioned to compete “by any means necessary” to win at the expense of others.
Atlanta Public Schools Leadership (APSL; school board and superintendent) are pretty good at teaching and conditioning people, even young children, to win at the expense of others, when winning and losing is not at all necessary, as with their Race2Read competition, for example.
Just think, the many children innocently and trustingly pour themselves into reading, wanting to do their best, to be helpful, to contribute, only to have the APSL adults turn on them and declare ten reading winner kids (“Top Student Readers”) and to tell the thousands of other children they are the reading loser kids, even if that is not the reality, at all.  Because they show they utterly fail to understand variation, the APSL adults create reading winners and reading losers out of the children, arbitrarily and capriciously, and ignorantly.
The currently serving APSL have always shown that everybody cooperating to achieve a common goal is an extremely foreign concept to them.  As their Race2Read competition exemplifies, the APSL would rather have children, students, schools, parents and community members, and even school bus drivers, competing than cooperating and collaborating.
How unfortunate, here in the twenty-first century, some among the APSL keep practicing the regressive belief that competition motivates people and boosts morale and improves quality, as does, for example, school board member Cynthia Briscoe Brown opining in a school board meeting here (at 1:22:30 thru 1:24:56) that the new “Elite Bus Driver” program is a way of “boosting morale” among school bus drivers.
Now, tell me, what parents would want an inferior, second-rate school bus driver at the wheel of the school bus transporting their children?  Or an inferior, second-rate mechanic having worked on the school bus?  What might parents think or do if they knew the majority of both school bus drivers and school bus mechanics have been told, and have come to believe, they are the inferior, second-rate ones?
Intentions hold no water, here.  Again, we are in the twenty-first century and the APSL should be progressing into it, not regressing back out of it, by way of behaviorism and Taylorism.
One dimension along which the APSL should have already progressed further into this century is that of recognizing the unethical and immoral nature of arbitrary and capricious competition—such as the Race2Read competition and the Elite Bus Driver program—and simply not do it.
So, how many children made Race2Read competition losers will grow up to transfer, unconsciously, their learned reading loser position in life into a selfish coding and hacking practice of “winning” by cyberattacking others?
What?  Did someone just say such a matter can’t be measured so therefore can’t happen?

Ed Johnson
Advocate for Quality in Public Education
Atlanta GA | (404) 505-8176 |


Alfie Kohn has written many books critical of competition and ranking in schools. This article appeared in the New York Times.


For a generation now, school reform has meant top-down mandates for what students must be taught, enforced by high-stakes standardized tests and justified by macho rhetoric — “rigor,” “raising the bar,” “tougher standards.”

Here’s a thought experiment. Suppose that next year virtually every student passed the tests. What would the reaction be from politicians, businesspeople, the media? Would these people shake their heads in admiration and say, “Damn, those teachers must be good!”?

Of course not. Such remarkable success would be cited as evidence that the tests were too easy. In the real world, when scores have improved sharply, this has indeed been the reaction. For example, when results on New York’s math exam rose in 2009, the chancellor of the state’s Board of Regents said, “What today’s scores tell me is not that we should be celebrating,” but instead “that New York State needs to raise its standards.”

The inescapable, and deeply disturbing, implication is that “high standards” really means “standards that all students will never be able to meet.” If everyone did meet them, the standards would just be ratcheted up again — as high as necessary to ensure that some students failed.

The standards-and-accountability movement is not about leaving no child behind. To the contrary, it is an elaborate sorting device, intended to separate wheat from chaff. The fact that students of color, students from low-income families and students whose first language isn’t English are disproportionately defined as chaff makes the whole enterprise even more insidious.

But my little thought experiment uncovers a truth that extends well beyond what has been done to our schools in the name of “raising the bar.” We have been taught to respond with suspicion whenever all members of any group are successful. That’s true even when we have no reason to believe that corners have been cut. In America, excellence is regarded as a scarce commodity. Success doesn’t count unless it is attained by only a few.

One way to ensure this outcome is to evaluate people (or schools, or companies, or countries) relative to one another. That way, even if everyone has done quite well, or improved over time, half will always fall below the median — and look like failures.

Kohn quite rightly concludes that the nature of the standards-and-accountability regime of federal policy (No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Every Student Succeeds Act) requires that most children are left behind, most children will never reach the top, and most children will not succeed. The reliance on standardized testing, normed on a bell curve, guarantees that outcome.

Attention Editors of U.S. News & World Report!

Gina Caneva teaches in a high school in Chicago that received a high ranking from U.S. News & World Report, but she is not happy. 

She knows the rankings are destructive nonsense. They are a fraud.

I began teaching 15 years ago at Corliss High School in the Roseland community on the Far South Side. Then and now, the school’s student body is nearly entirely African American, and 90% are termed “low income.” Currently, U.S. News and World Report states that Corliss is in between 430-647 in their rankings, CPS gives it a Level 2 rating and the Illinois Report Card designates it as a lowest performing school. Although I don’t have the numbers from 15 years ago, without a doubt these rankings would have been similar as I remember it being a school “on probation.” This meant that it could be closed.

But inside, it was neither a school on probation nor a failing school. Teachers worked together to prepare a rigorous curriculum that engaged students at many different skill levels despite lacking resources. Many students were fully present and active in their coursework. When outsiders stereotyped my students by asking, “Do they listen to you?” and “Do you just pass them through?” I told them story after story about my students reading and analyzing the nearly 600-page “Invisible Man” and writing poetry that rivaled published authors.

But there were some obstacles a rigorous curriculum and student engagement couldn’t overcome. Back in 2004, we only had one working computer lab for over 1,000 students. When we returned from winter break, bullet holes pierced our corridor windows — a glaring reminder of the violence in the neighborhood. Students had very few resources to deal with trauma or social-emotional learning as social work services were slim to none. I remember working with a student who lost her mother and younger siblings to violence over Christmas. She did not need rigorous instruction; we were ill-equipped to supply the emotional support she needed.

My second school, TEAM Englewood Community Academy, was a start-up school that opened because a low-ranked school was closed. Again, teachers and students worked diligently together to achieve district goals. Our students rarely met them, but not for lack of effort or focus. Bodies of research support the impact of poverty and segregation as legitimate factors of limited success on standardized tests. But whatever the factors were, for my students, they proved to be too much as the school would be labeled a failure. Last year, TEAM Englewood closed in much the same fashion as the school it replaced.

Presently, I teach at the 11th best ranked high school in Illinois. Lindblom teachers work diligently and are experts in their fields. We strive to provide a rigorous curriculum as much as teachers I worked with at Corliss and TEAM Englewood did. But there are two major differences at Lindblom. First, our students meet and exceed district, state and national goals. Second, they have to test in to get accepted into our school. As a selective-enrollment school, if a student does not meet the criteria of a certain score on a placement test before ninth grade, they cannot attend Lindblom. Yet our school, with our selective population, is ranked using the same measures against schools that are not selective. Simply put, the process is unfair.



Jack Schneider, a historian of education who often collaborates with Jennifer Berkshire, analyzes the fading allure of charter schools. After years of claims that they would “save” public schools and poor children, the public has given up on them. Why? They have not delivered, and the public gets it.

For most of the past thirty years, charters seemed unstoppable, especially because their expansion was backed by billions from people like the Waltons, Gates, and Broad, as well as the federal government. But they have not kept their promises.

Today, however, the grand promises of the charter movement remain unfulfilled, and so the costs of charters are being evaluated in a new light.

After three decades, charters enroll six percent of students. Despite bold predictions by their advocates that this number will grow fivefold, charters are increasingly in disrepute.

First, the promise of innovation was not met. Iron discipline is not exactly innovative.

Second, the promise that charters would be significantly better than public schools did not happen. In large part, that is because the introduction of charters simply creates an opportunity for choice; it does not ensure the quality of schools. Rigorous research, from groups like Mathematica Policy Research and Stanford University, has found that average charter performance is roughly equivalent to that of traditional public schools. A recent study in Ohio, for instance, concluded that some of the state’s charters perform worse than the state’s public schools, some perform better, and roughly half do not significantly differ.

Finally, charters have not produced the systemic improvement promised by their boosters.

Competition did not lift all boats. In fact, competition has weakened the public schools that enroll most students at the same time that charters do not necessarily provide a better alternative.

Schneider does not mention one other important reason for the diminishing reputation of charters: scandals, frauds, embezzlement, and other scams that appear daily in local and state media. A significant number of charters are launched and operated by non-educators and by entrepreneurs, which amplifies the reasons for charter instability and failure.




Erika Jones is an experienced teacher in California. In this post, she responds forcefully to the claim by charter advocates that privately managed charter schools “save” children of color.

They don’t.

I urge all charter advocacy groups and individuals to read her eloquent article and consider her words carefully.

She begins:

As a public-school educator who is African-American, I am keenly aware of what it means to be a student of color within the public school system and the role institutional racism has played.

We have faced decades of funding and resource inequities, which have left our current public schools in marginalized communities unable to fully serve their students. Historically, acknowledging these inequities can lead to strategies to combat institutional racism in our schools and across the country.

The last 20 years of exploding charter school growth in communities of color also make it clear that many proposed solutions can have serious negative consequences for the overwhelming majority of public school students. The time is now for our elected leaders in Sacramento to pass laws to support students by curtailing the worst parts of this broken, decades-long experiment.

Often within the conversation of supporting communities of color, school choice and specifically charter schools frequently are presented as the answer. When looking at institutional racism within public education, instead of being the panacea for children of color, more often than not the charter school industry actually leads to worsening conditions for a majority of students of color. This is because many school districts in California, whose students are overwhelmingly students of color, are in crisis mode: seeing upwards of a 200 percent growth in charter schools, lacking facilities and averaging hundreds of millions of dollars in fiscal impact directly attributed to this growth.

Yet the achievement gap for students of color has continued to widen. We see a select group of children of color leaving the traditional public school setting to attend charter schools, while the majority of children of color remain in the traditional setting.

I taught both 3rd grade and kindergarten in South Los Angeles at Angeles Mesa Elementary and during the years I was there multiple new charter schools popped up surrounding my school. I saw firsthand how our families of color were lured away by the promise of free tablets for their kids, nicer uniforms and so-called college readiness. I hugged parents as they brought their children back to my school, feeling devastated that their child had been kicked out of one of the charters or their children found themselves in schools with higher class sizes and less student support. Some of my families had even been misled to believe that the new charter school was their new home school.

The original intent of charter schools was to be educator-driven incubators of change where innovations that lead to student success could be shared with all schools within the public school system. Here we are 20 years later and instead of sharing methods, many traditional public schools in communities of color find themselves competing for resources, having disproportionate numbers of students with high needs and having larger populations of English learners. All this while for the most part charters are performing about the same as traditional public schools.

Erika Jones answers all the questions with facts and evidence. Please read the rest of her article.

Chris Hughes co-founded Facebook with Mark Zuckerberg. He is no longer part of the company but left with a considerable fortune. For a time, he was publisher of The New Republic. In this essay, which appeared in The New York Times, he says again and again that he really likes his old friend Mark. Great guy. A good, kind person. But dear friend Mark has too much power, and no one should have that much power.

Here is an excerpt.

America was built on the idea that power should not be concentrated in any one person, because we are all fallible. That’s why the founders created a system of checks and balances. They didn’t need to foresee the rise of Facebook to understand the threat that gargantuan companies would pose to democracy. Jefferson and Madison were voracious readers of Adam Smith, who believed that monopolies prevent the competition that spurs innovation and leads to economic growth.

A century later, in response to the rise of the oil, railroad and banking trusts of the Gilded Age, the Ohio Republican John Sherman said on the floor of Congress: “If we will not endure a king as a political power, we should not endure a king over the production, transportation and sale of any of the necessities of life. If we would not submit to an emperor, we should not submit to an autocrat of trade with power to prevent competition and to fix the price of any commodity.” The Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 outlawed monopolies. More legislation followed in the 20th century, creating legal and regulatory structures to promote competition and hold the biggest companies accountable. The Department of Justice broke up monopolies like Standard Oil and AT&T.

For many people today, it’s hard to imagine government doing much of anything right, let alone breaking up a company like Facebook. This isn’t by coincidence.

Starting in the 1970s, a small but dedicated group of economists, lawyers and policymakers sowed the seeds of our cynicism. Over the next 40 years, they financed a network of think tanks, journals, social clubs, academic centers and media outlets to teach an emerging generation that private interests should take precedence over public ones. Their gospel was simple: “Free” markets are dynamic and productive, while government is bureaucratic and ineffective. By the mid-1980s, they had largely managed to relegate energetic antitrust enforcement to the history books.

This shift, combined with business-friendly tax and regulatory policy, ushered in a period of mergers and acquisitions that created megacorporations. In the past 20 years, more than 75 percent of American industries, from airlines to pharmaceuticals, have experienced increased concentration, and the average size of public companies has tripled. The results are a decline in entrepreneurship, stalled productivity growth, and higher prices and fewer choices for consumers.

The same thing is happening in social media and digital communications. Because Facebook so dominates social networking, it faces no market-based accountability. This means that every time Facebook messes up, we repeat an exhausting pattern: first outrage, then disappointment and, finally, resignation….

Facebook has earned the prize of domination. It is worth half a trillion dollars and commands, by my estimate, more than 80 percent of the world’s social networking revenue. It is a powerful monopoly, eclipsing all of its rivals and erasing competition from the social networking category. This explains why, even during the annus horribilis of 2018, Facebook’s earnings per share increased by an astounding 40 percent compared with the year before. (I liquidated my Facebook shares in 2012, and I don’t invest directly in any social media companies.)…

The vibrant marketplace that once drove Facebook and other social media companies to compete to come up with better products has virtually disappeared. This means there’s less chance of start-ups developing healthier, less exploitative social media platforms. It also means less accountability on issues like privacy.

Just last month, Facebook seemingly tried to bury news that it had stored tens of millions of user passwords in plain text format, which thousands of Facebook employees could see. Competition alone wouldn’t necessarily spur privacy protection — regulation is required to ensure accountability — but Facebook’s lock on the market guarantees that users can’t protest by moving to alternative platforms….

Hughes is especially concerned about Zuckerberg’s “unilateral” power over the speech and expression of two billion people. A fine of $5 Billion is a slap on the wrist. When facing a threat of a fine that large, Facebook’s stock value went up by $30 billion.

Hughes has two recommendations:

First, that Facebook be broken up by compelling it to divest itself of WhatsApp and Instagram.

Second, that the federal government create a regulatory agency to oversee tech companies and assure consumer privacy.

In normal times, policymakers in D.C. might listen and consider such a bold proposal. But these days, given a federal administration dedicated to deregulating everything, Hughes’ ideas will have to wait for new leadership.


Committees of the New York City Bar Association sent a statement to School Chancellor Richard Carranza opposing the use of competitive admissions to elementary and junior high schools.

They said:

  • Measures of young children’s ability and behavior through competitive admission screening and testing are unreliable and racially biased.
  • Competitive admissions for very young children are pedagogically unsound because research demonstrates that all children derive educational and social benefits from diverse classrooms with students of differing races, economic status, and learning ability.
  • The practice of excluding the majority of certain socioeconomic and racial groups of young children from a large percentage of public institutions is inequitable and conducive to racial hierarchy.

Such policies, they said, are incompatible with the goal of equal educational opportunity, because opportunities are denied based on flawed measures.



Jane Nylund, a parent activist in Oakland, wrote this incisive overview of charter frauds in her district and submitted it to the Task Force reviewing the California charter law. Please copy and forward to the Task Force at:

She writes:

For fifteen years as a parent, volunteer, and employee of Oakland Unified, I’ve been witness to what is now a full blown privatization movement in Oakland under our “portfolio district” model. A movement designed to crush our real public schools and privatize them; a movement to close our schools and gentrify our neighborhoods. A movement to allow outside interests and corporations to feed at the trough. And the current laws in California that allow this to happen, unchecked and unfettered. And the absolute failure of any of it to collectively improve the lives of our most vulnerable children. 

 The time for this damaging experiment on our children is over. Stop clutching at the billionaires’ purse strings, while at the same time declaring that more choice is the answer. Here’s why it isn’t.

 Choice in Oakland-Do you want fries with that?

What does choice in Oakland mean? The model here isn’t much different than saturating the poor neighborhoods with cheap fast food. Oh, there’s choice all right-McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, or Taco Bell. Plenty of choice, take your pick. How about a nice juicy steak? Forget it, you don’t need that choice, but here’s some other choices for you. Poor nutrition that fills you temporarily, but ends up starving you of any real sustenance. Saturating neighborhoods with charter schools is the same business model. I heard an East Oakland resident say, in a public meeting, that charter schools were like having drug dealers on every corner. Keepin’ it real….

 Scandals? You want ’em, we got ’em

 Scandal #1-American Indian Charter

The CEO of AIMS, Ben Chavis stole $3.8M from his schools in rent and paid it to his own leasing company which held the leases for his own schools. Self-dealing Gone Wild. He is in jail in North Carolina awaiting trial for money laundering and mail fraud. You’d think the school would be shut down after that? Nope, the school board wilted under the facade of those amazing test scores, gamed in part by shutting out African Americans and SPED from the AIMS schools, as well as having obscenely high rates of attrition.  

 Scandal #2-Bay Area Technology School

A Gulen school run by Turkish teachers and a Turkish school board. In a squabble worthy of a B-rated movie, the principal was forced out but somehow managed to flee to Australia with $400,000 of our hard-earned tax dollars in his pocket. Nice gig if you can get it.  

 Scandal #3-Oakland School for the Arts

Full disclosure-I’m a huge arts supporter, and I know plenty of parents who support the school and who have kids there. It’s not the program; it’s the enrollment policy. OSA is an experiment in what happens when a school supported by our former governor is allowed to select its own student body. OSA is now the second wealthiest school in Oakland and has virtually no ELL. How can that possibly happen when the school has a lottery? Easy. You have the kids do an audition and allow the kids into the lottery based on the results of the audition. Private schools do that. Is it discriminatory? Yes, the ACLU said as much.  Does it violate charter law? Yes. Has anyone done anything about it. No, because of big $$$ and the support of Jerry Brown and Friends. Alternatively, Jerry could have supported more arts funding in public schools instead of opening OSA. Food for thought….

 Scandal #4-Castlemont Junior Academy and Primary Academy

This was a script that practically wrote itself. Open charters right next door to the neighborhood elementary, Parker. Next, install a OUSD board member, James Harris on the charter board, as well as Yana Smith, the wife of former OUSD Chief of Schools Allen Smith. While it might have been legal, the perceived conflict of interest was breathtaking. Lastly, watch in amazement as the charters implode a few months later, due to low enrollment. Parker, the real public school has to enroll approx. 85 children from the elementary charter mid-year. It doesn’t get more disruptive than that. Startup funding? Gone….  

 Scandal #5-Aspire Eres and the annexing of the Derby Parcel

When Reed Hastings says “Jump!”, Aspire says, “How high?” Aspire, in a bid to purchase city-owned public land for charter school expansion, tried to negotiate a backroom deal with the city. The expansion had not even been approved by the school board, but that’s okay because Reed Hastings doesn’t like elected school boards anyway. They just get in the way of his personal business. Public school activists found out, organized the public, pushed back hard, and thwarted the deal.  

 Scandal #6-the 100% Grad Rate myth

This is one of my personal favorites because of the inevitable comparison of district schools’ to charter schools’ performance. How many more times do we need to see grad rates/test scores stats tossed around on social media, popping up like so many toxic mushrooms. How can a charter school claim 100% (or close to it) grad rates when they lose 40, 50, or 60% of their children in high school? Easy, charters typically don’t backfill. Real public schools backfill; they fill that seat as soon as a student wants it, at any time. Any student, not just the easy ones.

 Scandal #7-Charters are superior to district schools because of their amazing test scores! (Marketing 101)

See Scandal #6. Until charters can claim that they educate the same number of FRPL, ELL, and SPED kids, and also have the same number of suspensions/attrition, there is no valid or fair comparison here. The student populations served (or not) are usually significantly different.

 Scandal #8-the “rightsizing” myth

Portfolio models “rightsize” (translation:downsize) by closing mostly district schools. But the schools don’t close; they are privatized into charters via Prop 39. Out of 18 of the last Oakland district school closures, 14 were converted to charters. This scandal illustrates the utter lack of local control on any charter openings/closings. Easy to open, nearly impossible to close, favoring charter growth by design. OUSD admitted that closing schools doesn’t save money, and yet they (Walton/Bloomberg-bought board) push the narrative constantly. It’s a mantra that’s growing stale but refuses to die.

 Scandal #9-the “high demand” for charters myth

See Scandal #8. How to create demand? Close your neighborhood elementary schools, which then feed into the middle schools (demand dries up there as well). Then, open a charter right near these same schools. Doesn’t take a genius to see how that will turn out. Ask the students at Roots International how they feel about their neighborhood school closure. But our charter-friendly ($$$) school board fully supports this portfolio model; there are charters right around the corner that former Roots students can attend instead. Instant charter demand creation.  

 Scandal #10

The fact that all these scandals exist at all, and that public school advocates, as well as tenacious local reporters, have to do the important work of digging up the information and presenting it to the public. This is what accountability looks like in Oakland and the rest of California. We are getting tired of doing the job that the Office of Charter Schools is supposed to be doing, but doesn’t. And this list is far from exhaustive; it’s likely just the tip of the iceberg, because of the lack of transparency.

 Our school district loses $57M a year to unfettered charter expansion. It’s time to get back to some no-nonsense approaches to this problem such as real local control, as well as including impact to district finances. Charter schools don’t have the right to expand just because it’s what the Waltons and Reed Hastings want. The Waltons don’t send their children to Oakland public schools.  District schools aren’t offered the same expansion opportunity and if they were, Oakland Technical would be the size of a small college by now. This failed experiment on our most vulnerable children must end, and I implore the task force to make the recommendations that will serve the needs of ALL students and stop supporting an agenda that clearly favors charter expansion, the theft of taxpayers’ dollars, and not much else. The time is now, and if not now, when?

 Thank you for your attention in this matter.

John Thompson, who recently retired as a teacher in Oklahoma, here reviews Andrea Gabor’s fine book, After the Education Wars. His review appears in two parts. He is interested in Gabor’s critique of why “reform” failed and where we go next.
He writes:
We are near the end of the 21st century’s second decade, and some fervent corporate school reformers finally seem to be understanding that their experiment turned an unconscionable percentage of schools into sped-up versions of a Model T assembly line. We need a new era of humane, holistic school improvement. A first step is reading and discussing Andrea Gabor’s After the Education Wars.  Now that corporate reform failed, Gabor explains, we must learn the lessons of history and “recover the road not taken.”

The progressive reformers who preceded the corporate reformers of the last generation operated in a manner that was consistent with the “continuous improvement” philosophy of Edwards Deming. As Gabor and Deming explain about schools and other sectors, “Variation is as ubiquitous as air and water.” Deming said, “Only the employees closest to a given process can identify the variation that invariably diminishes quality.” That is why it was necessary to shake up the systemic hierarchy and “drive fear out of the workplace and foster intrinsic motivation.”

Gabor acknowledges the inherent flaws of the pre-reform education administrative sector. Her deepest dive into that “status quo” was her account of how progressive New York City educators, like Deborah Meier, carved out the holistic and inclusive road which reformers refused to take. Meier battled the district’s “compliance managers.” Their methods embodied “creative noncompliance.” Then, Meier and her era’s reformers personified a value system consistent with Deming’s call for “a participative, collaborative, deeply democratic approach to continuous improvement.”

Meier and other progressive education reformers in New York, Massachusetts, and Leander, Tx, respected the essential role of trusting relationships. They needed educators to unite for a team effort, but they also understood the folly of trying to mandate unanimity. It would have been easier to order all teachers to obey the normative dictum which was embraced by the corporate reformers, and be “on the same page.” But they knew that the alternative to open collaboration would be “resistance, secrecy and sabotage.” If Meier and other school leaders emulated the management model of New York City and other large districts, and mandated teacher compliance, “‘the braver and more conscientious [would] cheat the most, but even the most timid can’t practice well what they don’t believe in.’”

Venture philanthropists like Bill Gates and Mike Bloomberg initially shared some of the values which motivated progressive reformers. Both groups initiated small schools in order to offer more personalized services, and the corporate reformers first seemed to not be bewildered by the key component of continuous improvement – building trust. In a sharp contrast to the reckless pace of change that would soon be imposed on public education, the Gates Foundation visited Meier’s Julia Richmond High School for a year before starting its small school campaign. I was shocked to learn that Gates’ Tom Vander Ark invested so much time in visiting schools. But, as Gabor discovered, “The Gates man was smitten with Julia Richmond, but he didn’t see what was actually happening there.”

A progressive principal told Vander Ark about 25 times that “small is a necessary, but not sufficient.” But, he was apparently so obsessed with “scaling up” reforms that the need for collaboration was subordinated to a focus on “design attributes” that could drive nationwide transformation. Vander Ark was more impressed with the “design coherence” of Success Academy than the Julia Richmond culture of trust. Because of their commitment to rapid transformations, Gates, Bloomberg, and other corporate reformers rejected the essence of Meier’s approach and pushed its “antithesis,” which resulted in the “no-excuses charter movement’s focus on behavioral conformity and control.”

Another factor was the Billionaires Boys Club’s hubris. The reformers “distrust of education culture” was combined with “suspicion – even their hatred – of organized labor and their contempt for ordinary public school teachers.” They displayed “the arrogance that elevated polished, but often mediocre (or worse), technocrats over scruffy but knowledgeable educators.” Eventually, Gabor wrote, “to be an educator in Bloomberg’s New York was a little like being a Trotskyite in Bolshevik Russia – never fully trusted and ultimately sidelined, if not doomed.”

It wasn’t just in New York City where the opportunity to learn from veteran, progressive reformers was lost. Across the nation, the accountability-driven, competition-driven reformers’ well-funded public relations campaigns “turned teacher-bashing into a blood sport.” They then sought to “teacher proof” the classroom. Consequently, canned curriculum and mind-numbing lessons drove much of the joy of teaching and learning out of the nation’s schools.

New York City’s lost opportunity morphed into a national tragedy as technocrats continued to worship data but not recognize that the most important educational factors are immeasurable. Their “Taylorism” was combined with a failure to recognize the dangers of “Schumpeterian” disruption on children. And the more that educators resisted reward and punish policies, the more reformers sought better hammers to force compliance. After tougher principal evaluations did not produce enough obedience, value added teacher evaluations sought to hold every single educator accountable for meeting their quantitative goals. Then, reformers overreached by simultaneously imposing Common Core high stakes tests and accountability metrics that were theoretically but not actually aligned with each other.

I entered the classroom as a 39-year-old rookie, but one who had a decade of experience in the inner city. Nearly 1/5th of my first years’ students would listen, learn, and yet refuse to do a single assignment. They didn’t disrupt our lessons as they often did the classes dominated by worksheet-driven instruction. Clearly, part of their noncompliance was a political statement, and they were glad to say why they resisted and why they would soon drop out of school. The common narrative was that they had been robbed of an education when growing up in our district’s teach-to-the-test era in the wake of “A Nation at Risk.” And they bitterly protested that the worst of the drill and kill was imposed on inner city schools.

This was the early 1990s and a new era of test-driven reform was being organized. During our discussions, I said that if reformers would read Catch 22, they would know that compliance couldn’t be forced, and that the system would respond with destructive games to make the accountability metrics come out right. One of my brightest students, who learned every day but who was so fed up with drill and kill that he would have nothing but zeros in every class when he dropped out, offered a better metaphor. During the famous scene in the comedy, I Love Lucy, Lucy fell behind when boxing chocolates on an assembly line. Teachers and students responded to test-driven reform in the same way, tossing out and even eating the product.

Back then, there was a common phrase which Oklahoma progressives repeated, “Feed the Teachers or They Will Eat the Kids,” which anticipates a second post on Gabor’s account of progressive reformers trying to change that reality in NYC, Massachusetts, and Leandor, Tx, as corporate reformers recreated Lucy’s sped-up assembly lines in NYC, New Orleans, and many or most urban schools. It will also review her proposals for a new era that needs to come After the Education Wars.”

Tune in tomorrow, same time, same place, to read the concluding section of Thompson’s review.


For years, the charter industry in New York has boasted about its superiority compared to public schools and claimed that there were long waiting lists of students clamoring for admission to charter schools. We now know that there never was a waiting list. The charters were given access to the names and addresses of public school students so they could bombard them with marketing materials in search of new students. Even Success Academy,  the biggest boaster of all the charters, relied on the harvesting of public school lists to recruit new students.

Tomorrow, parents in New York City will Rally to urge Mayor DeBlasio to stop the practice of sharing their children’s data with the charters.


Dear Diane,

We need YOU tomorrow at a very important press conference in New York City. Below is an important message from NYC Kids Pac.


Please come to a press conference this Monday at 1 PM at Tweed to demand that the Mayor stop providing charter schools access to student personal information to help them market their schools. This not only violates our children’s privacy, but by assisting charters to recruit students, this cannibalizes public schools by encouraging charters to absorb an ever-increasing amount of funding, students and space.

Please come and show your support! Don’t let the Mayor fail to act because of threats from the charter lobby – while he continues to brush aside parent voices, violate student privacy and undermine our public schools.

See press advisory with more details below; please share this message with other parents, friends and colleagues.

Hope to see you there,

Naila, Isaac, Fatima, Celia, Leonie, Eduardo, Margaret, Andy, Brooke, Karen, Shino and Tesa

What: Press conference to oppose the Mayor’s practice of sharing personal student information with charter schools

Who: NYC public school parents and parent leaders

When: Monday April 15, 2019 at 1:00 PM

Where: The steps of the Tweed Courthouse, 52 Chambers Street, downtown Manhattan

Why:   NYC public school parents and parent leaders demand that the Mayor cease the practice of allowing charter schools access to student personal information. In response to long-standing parent complaints, Chancellor Carranza has repeatedly promised parents in recent weeks, both publicly and privately, that this practice will be discontinued, but the Mayor has yet to make a commitment to do so and in the last few days has said no decision has yet been made.  

NYC is the only district in the country which voluntarily shares this information to help them charters expand their market share. Parents have long complained that this violates their children’s privacy, and this was the subject of a FERPA student privacy complaint to the US Department of Education in November 2017. Moreover, by allowing access to this information, the DOE has encouraged the rapid expansion of charter schools, which are now costing our public schools more than $2.1 billion per year. As a result, our public schools have less space and fewer resources to educate our neediest students.

While in the past, the DOE has suggested that public schools improve their “marketing”  to compete, they do not have the necessary funds to do so and in any case, most parents do not believe that the public schools  should be forced to divert what precious resources they have for this purpose.

Co-sponsored by NYC Kids PAC and the Education Council Consortium (ECC), made up of elected and appointed Community Education and Citywide Council members, established to address issues that affect schools and communities throughout all five boroughs.  

Thanks for all you do,

Carol Burris

Donations to NPE Action (a 501(c)(4)) are not tax deductible, but they are needed to lobby and educate the public about the issues and candidates we support.
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