Archives for category: Competition

Two Wisconsin legislators published an opinion piece about the harm that school choice is doing to the state’s public schools.

Jon Erpenbach and Sondy Pope object to the way that vouchers have taken money away from public schools without the compose top of the governed.

It hasn’t been long since many Wisconsinites have had to vote on referendums to keep their public school doors open, and now in this new year, our schools continue to be underfunded. This spring 50 school districts will go to referendum, with 29 seeking $915 million in operating costs alone.

During last year’s budget deliberations, Gov. Tony Evers put forth a proposal that would have made significant investments in our public schools. Many of his ideas stemmed from the Republican controlled Blue Ribbon Commission on K-12 education. Unfortunately, the task force recommendations could not make it past the Republicans on the Joint Committee on Finance, including $10.1 million from sparsity aid for rural districts compared to the Governor’s plan. Senate District 27 lost $600,000 alone due to Republican rejections of their own recommendations, with 82 other districts statewide also losing funds.Fast forward to this year, andinstead of doing their jobs and convening for a special session to address the farm crisis, Republicans chose to hold a political rally to promote voucher schools.

Unfortunately, while taxpayers will be voting on referendums this April, voucher school operators are able to take $145.5 million from property taxpayers with zero transparency, oversight or ability to vote “no.”

On Jan. 8, 2020, Senator Bewley (D-Mason), Representative Considine (D-Baraboo), and both of us introduced Senate Bill 661 (SB 661), to prohibit the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) from making reductions in the amount of state aid that is paid to school districts, unless the voters agree to the reductions by a referendum vote.

Under current law, school choice programs are able to drain funds away from public schools, and SB 661 would give power back to Wisconsinites to decide how they want their tax dollars spent.

A recent memo released by the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau shows that vouchers caused $145 million in aid reduction to public schools. That amount is up 30% from last year, and this problem is only going to grow if it is not addressed. The trend in tax dollars going away from public schools towards unreliable voucher programs shows the decline to our education system at the expense of our taxpayers. Wisconsinites should have a choice in whether or not they want to fund two separate education programs, and that is why we introduced the bill to bring accountability back into the fold.

For-profit education is chipping away at our democracy with misinformation and misleading standards for education, with the approval of our current presidential administration. Wisconsin Democrats believe in doing what is best for our children, and unfortunately, forcing taxpayers to fund competing education systems will only hinder their future.

Nimet Eren, principal of the public Kensington Health Sciences Academy, runs a public school for 465 students that is open to all and offers four career pathways. Recently the school learned that a new charter would open nearby offering the same program. 

The principal was told that the competition would “help” her school by providing a “model” of what her school was already doing successfully.

She writes:

During the summer of 2019, the Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP), a nonprofit organization that invests in educational projects across the city, met with me to discuss the goals we had for our school. We talked extensively about what we have learned from the partnerships we have created, especially in medical settings. Then, PSP asked to visit us on Sept. 25 for the morning. It was a wonderful visit, and our teachers and students were engaged in great learning, as they are every day. The day finished with an in-depth conversation about the challenges of building partnerships with settings such as hospitals and clinics.

Then, before Thanksgiving break, I received an email from PSP stating that they had “an exciting opportunity for KHSA” and that they wanted to share it with me. I was, of course, elated and scheduled a meeting with them on Dec. 2.

The news they wanted to share was that they were giving seed money to a potential charter founder to form a health sciences charter high school in North Philly. I was confused. How was this an exciting opportunity for KHSA?

It actually felt like creating unfair competition for my school for resources that are already scarce, especially because charters can manipulate admissions and enrollment policies to their benefit, and neighborhood schools cannot.

I asked PSP how this charter school would be helpful to KHSA, and they said that my school “could learn from their charter model.” I replied that we are trying to build a model for our neighborhood students and that we need support. They then explained what I believe is the real answer as to why they were not investing in us: Because KHSA is a neighborhood school and not a charter school, they cannot control enrollment for their dream school.

Although it might appear that KHSA does not want a health sciences charter school to exist just because they copied our school’s theme, that is not the reason. The reason actually is that many charter schools create the illusion that they are educating children better than neighborhood high schools. The reality is that neighborhood high schools are serving our highest-needs children and that society should be investing the most in them.

The children who come to my school each day are the most resilient, charismatic, and loving people I have ever known. Some of my students’ reading and math levels are not as high, but that’s not their fault. It is society’s fault for not better supporting the children who are most in need. PSP’s explanation of why it is not investing in a neighborhood high school perpetuates this inequity.

I testified at the school board meeting on Dec. 12 and a charter school hearing on Dec. 20. I have had countless conversations with colleagues and opponents and have thought tirelessly about the charter vs. traditional school debate. I have heard so many arguments for both sides of the story, but the idea that I find the most compelling is one shared by one of my teachers, Jenifer Felix: Parents want what’s best for their own children. Teachers want what’s best for all children.

The problem with school choice is that it creates segregation. Choice takes away limited resources from inclusive neighborhood schools and leads to even fewer resources being spent on our students who are most in need.

Former superintendent Tom Dunn wrote a blistering critique of federal and state interventions into education that were lies, all lies.

And the promises and lies continue despite the failure of all the previous promises.

He writes:

As a former school superintendent, one of my most important, difficult, and frustrating responsibilities was trying to stay abreast of state and federal laws governing education. It was during this time that I had my eyes opened to how politics at the state and federal level really works. Suffice it to say that what I learned was disturbing.

First of all, to this day, the sheer number of proposed and/or passed bills makes the task of staying current nearly impossible. I imagine this is a political strategy meant to keep people as confused and overwhelmed as possible. The number of laws that made no sense and were sold to the public with misinformation and lies was staggering.

I felt perpetually conflicted about being forced to implement mandates that were, frankly, bad for kids. The irony is how often the very politicians who denounce bullying use their power to beat adults into submission with their ill-conceived laws. In education, they do this through threats of financial penalty against districts that dare disobey them, by threatening the professional licensure of educators who don’t do as they are told, and/or through character assassination of those who dare question them.

For at least three decades, politicians have claimed their goal has been to close the achievement gap between children who are successful in school and those who are not, and, by their own admission, their laws haven’t worked. They have failed while wasting billions of our tax dollars.

In the early 1990’s, politicians told us that if they could force all schools to follow the same academic standards, the achievement gap would be eliminated. But, the gap still exists.

Similarly, politicians promised us that forcing kids to take state approved tests, with schools, teachers, and principals being “held accountable” for their students’ performance, the achievement gap would be eliminated. But, the gap still exists.

The public was also assured that if laws were enacted “guaranteeing” that every child must achieve a politically determined level of achievement, all children would be successful. But, the gap still exists.

They lied, because none of these factors are primarily responsible for the gap.

One of their most egregious lies has been that the lack of competition in public education has been the culprit. People pushing this narrative actually pretended as if competition didn’t already exist. But, of course, it did through private and home school options, not to mention other opportunities, such as boarding schools. But, that fact interfered with their narrative, so they ignored it.

We were told that just a little more competition would generate new, more successful learning environments in which kids who were failing could flourish. It would also, we were assured, force the public schools to improve.

Early on, this expansion of competition was in the form of charter schools. Politicians told us kids deserved them, because they would no longer be “trapped” in poor public schools. Of course, they failed to mention that many of these charter schools were owned by large campaign contributors who were becoming quite wealthy on the backs of our neediest kids.

These same politicians remained strangely silent when the test data that they worship clearly showed that kids were often leaving higher performing public schools to attend lower performing charter schools. In other words, what they said would happen wasn’t happening.

But, ignoring that fact, politicians continued to expand school choice options to allow parents to use tax dollars to attend private schools. This was done through the Education Choice Scholarship (EdChoice) Program. The Ohio Department of Education web site claims that EdChoice “provides students from underperforming public schools the opportunity to attend participating private schools.”

The problem with this justification is that it isn’t true. The criteria for “underperforming” is written in such a way that even the highest performing public schools can be defined as such. In other words, the law allows parents to use tax dollars to fund their children’s private school education while “escaping” very high performing schools. This exact scenario has occurred in one of the top scoring school districts in the state, the Solon Schools.

At last, in Ohio, a fearless truth-teller, fed up with lies and empty promises.


Valerie Strauss is not surprised yet disappointed that Betsy DeVos kicked off her “back to school tour” at a religious school in Milwaukee, flaunting her contempt for the vast majority of students who attend public schools. By doing so, she showed her agenda: privatization of public schools and transfer of public money to religious schools.

It is ironic that she chose Milwaukee to demonstrate the benefits of school choice. Milwaukee has had choice for three decades: charters, vouchers, and a shrinking public school sector.

All three sectors are faring poorly. On the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Milwaukee is one of the lowest performing cities in the nation.  Students in religious schools, charters, and public schools are doing poorly.

Competition raised no boats. Milwaukee demonstrates the failure of school choice.

Betsy DeVos either doesn’t know or doesn’t care.



Ed Johnson responds to the Atlanta Association of Educators and explains why he is running for the school board.

I am posting two of his responses because I don’t think you will find any school board candidate in the nation who has responded as thoughtfully as Ed Johnson.

Ed Johnson
Candidate, Atlanta Board of Education District 2

1. What is your concern and goals for the students of District 2?

In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote:

“Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. … We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

Because I am practiced in and hold great respect for the profound, seemingly uncommon wisdom the word “interrelatedness” implies and carries, my concern and goals are for ALL children, which obviously includes the children of District 2, as well as the children’s teachers.

Specifically, my overarching goals are to influence and collaborate with school board members in learning to carry out the following two touchstone responsibilities the 2002 revised Atlanta Independent School System (AISS) Charter requires of them and of the superintendent, respectively:

“Adopting district-wide policies that support [providing] an environment for [continual] quality improvement and progress for all decision makers in the district, as well as for students.”

“After adoption of policies by the Board, [the superintendent is responsible for] providing a supportive environment for [continual] quality improvement and progress for all decision makers in the district, as well as for students.”

The inclusion of these responsibilities of the school board and the superintendent, respectively, in the 2002 revised AISS Charter are a direct result of my intervening with the school board’s Charter Review Commission to protest what otherwise would have been included in the charter, namely:

“Adopting district‐wide policies that provide incentives for progress and consequences for failure for all decision‐makers in the district, as well as for students. These policies must meet or exceed the state policies that provide incentives for progress and consequences for failure.”

Because this blatantly stipulates practicing behaviorism, which has roots in slavery, and because it is totally contrary to, and inherently destructive of, Dr. King’s legacy teaching of “interrelatedness,” my protest before the Charter Review Commission Chairman was:

“Hell, no! You are not going to do this to the children!

Thus my concern simply is that school board members and superintendents we have had over the past nearly 30 years have been either ignorantly or intentionally practicing behaviorism on especially children labeled “Black” and their teachers. The detrimental consequences have compounded over time, with behaviorism having been made a normal “best practice” in educating children labeled “Black,” especially in “no excuses” charter schools such as KIPP and in public schools outsourced to charter school operators—what the school board and superintendent call “partner schools.”

It is way, way past time to elect someone whose maturity and 30 years of learning and experience can help the school board learn to do differently, to do better, to start a never-ending journey of continual quality improvement per the 2002 revised AISS Charter and do it anchored in a public-serving purpose of the Atlanta Public Schools system rather than a mostly “partner”-serving purpose. Elected or not, my goal is to help make it so.

2. What is your knowledge of the community school model, and where do you see it as a part of District 2?

I understand the community school model is that of a school engaged in partnerships with community resources operating to benefit the school and including objectives such a dropout prevention, health screenings and care, adult literacy, and potentially much more. I have observed from afar the popular national demonstration of the community school model, that being McDowell County, West Virginia. And I am familiar with Georgia Senate Bill 30, entitled, Sustainable Community School Operational Grants.

I am supportive of the community school model in District 2 public schools, and in public schools in general, to the extent partnerships contribute directly to improving the schools’ internal capabilities to continually improve so as to eventually not need the partnerships and not compromise any school’s educational purpose. A District 2 public school implementing the community school model will make no difference for teaching and learning by teachers and children if the school has not the internal capabilities to improve in the face internal challenges that would be effectively outsourced through partnerships. Moreover, I am aware some privatizers of public schools have co-opted the community school model to serve their selfish profit-making interests. Accordingly, vigilance is warranted, lest public schools adopt the community school model only to change and acquiesce to external private purposes and agenda just to attain the “carrot” resources and grants put in front of them.

3. Given the data around the charter model, what is your stance on charter schools and funding for those programs?

First, let’s understand, charter schools are not public schools. Charter schools serve private interests first and foremost, inherently. Public schools serve public interests first and foremost, inherently. Charter schools are rivalrous and excludable, as by lottery. Public schools are non-rivalrous and non-excludable. Charter schools appeal to and feed on parents’ selfishness. Public schools rely on “All for one and one for all.” Thus the oft stated expression “public charter school” is a contradiction in terms; there is no such thing.

I am keenly aware of qualitative and quantitative data around the charter schools “no excuses” model, such as KIPP, for which data say charter schools do no better than, and very often do worse than, public schools. I just this week drafted a PowerPoint presentation using State of Georgia Governor’s Office of Student Achievement (GOSA) school-level Letter Grades for all APS schools available since 2014. KIPP charter schools operating in District 2 represent nothing remarkable compared to the public schools. The GOSA school-level Letter Grades, quantified, make this plainly clear. Thus my unequivocal position is charter schools are a total and absolute waste, academically, fiscally, and operationally. Our Atlanta public schools can be improved, but not in the presence of charter schools. Charter schools function as a drain on our public schools, much like a sink drain. And much like water that disappears down the sink drain, our public schools will disappear down the charter schools drain, unless we plug the drain.

4. What is your stance for the Excellence School model? Do you feel that each school should have an equitable amount of special needs services?

I am keenly aware of and unequivocally opposed to the so-called Excellent Schools model. The model is the currently serving school board chairman and superintendent’s deceptive marketing to implement The City Fund’s free market ideological Portfolio of Schools “idea.” The “idea” is to treat and manage APS schools like a portfolio of stocks—namely, in order to continually maximize the total value of the stock portfolio, periodically rank the stocks by performance, and then sell off the lowest performing five percent or so and buy better performing stocks.

It is an “idea” that has absolutely no basis in pedagogy nor in research nor in actually intending to improve schools. Purveyors of the Portfolio of Schools “idea” expressly target large urban, heavily Black populated cities, such as Atlanta. The “idea” is given different catchy names in different cities. If implemented within APS, the “idea” must necessarily operate cyclically to identify the five percent or so so-called lower-performing public schools and close them so as to move funding to open new charter schools to benefit privatizers and investors, primarily. Many District 2 public schools will stand to be among those the Excellent Schools model would target, GOSA letter grades data suggest.

More about this matter at these references:

As to the second question, “Do you feel that each school should have an equitable amount of special needs services?,” I believe each school should have the adaptive capability to provide special needs services as might be required of it and to be capable to adsorb demand for such services, within limits. Each public school having such adaptive capability can only be a consequence of the school continually improving in quality. So school improvement is essential, not merely school change.

5.What is your knowledge-base of the charter school programs? Are you familiar with the latest evaluation of the charter school contracts?

APS charter schools represent nothing remarkable compared to APS public schools. Virtually all available measures of school performance are clear about this.

I am aware the school board and superintendent will this coming school year turn a newly constructed facility over to KIPP to operate. It represents yet another instance of them effectively using APS as a pass-thru entity of public funds to private interests. Their behavior is unethical and immoral and reprehensible.

6. Are you aware of the proposed consolidation and closings, and what is your opinion?

To the extent one considers the so-called Excellent Schools model a proposal, consolidating and closing our public schools will be a requirement of that proposal, necessarily. Not at all an opinion but rather a fact, consolidating and closing the public’s public schools signals failure on the part of the school board to abide by the 2002 revised AISS Charter stipulating adopting policies to provide for improving the quality of our public schools. Subsequently, the superintendent fails to provide a supportive environment for improving the quality of our public schools.

An example is the school board and superintendent’s closing Adamsville Primary and consolidating it with L. P. Miles Elementary. Their action was absolutely unnecessary. Later, it was found out they took that action so as to give the Adamsville Primary building and attendant resources to the private Kindezi Charter Schools, although Kindezi Charter Schools did not request the building, the AJC reported.

7. Do you feel administrative autonomy is the best fit for school management?

I am keenly aware so-called administrative autonomy and, in general, the notion of “flexibility for accountability,” packaged profane selling points the school board and superintendent employed to get the public to acquiesce to their changing APS into a Charter System, rather than exercise the courage to commit to improving the district starting with where it was at the time, although as a derisively named “Status Quo” district.

In reality, no one has “autonomy.” Schoolhouse administrators must exist and function interrelatedly (see Dr. King quoted, above) with all others, especially the school’s teachers. Imposing so-called administrative autonomy does not rationally substitute for a school needing the capability to improve. Administrative autonomy merely allows the superintendent to escape the responsibilities the AISS Charter stipulates for her role, so as to then be able to stand back and hold schoolhouse administrators accountable for failures she spawns. Same for the school board. With her holding schoolhouse administrators accountable for results having not contributed at all to improving any APS public schools over the past five years, the superintendent’s recent hiring of yet more “school turnaround principals” exemplifies the absurdity of “doing the same thing and expecting different results.”

8. Do you feel that abolishment of jobs is best practices for ALL students?

Absolutely not. Moreover, it is not a “best practice” for ANY students. Again, the 2002 revised AISS Charter stipulates responsibilities for the superintendent’s role. Not one superintendent responsibility stipulates or even implies abolishing jobs is a best practice. Abolishing jobs as a best practice can only rationally be taken as evidence of the superintendent leading as a “trained” behaviorist more so than as a learned educationist—that is, a professional educator. This way of thinking and leading borrows from General Electric’s Chairman and CEO, Jack Welch. It is much the same as The City Fund’s free market Portfolio of Schools “idea” the school board and superintendent market as their Excellent Schools model. Beverly Hall, with involvement by General Electric’s John Rice, then in Atlanta, did this and we all know the outcome was a massively systemic cheating crisis.

As an “I told you so” footnote, here, my first run for a seat on the school board in 2005 was an effort to prevent the crisis, which was plainly predictable to anyone who had the wisdom and experience to see it coming. The cheating crisis exposed the foolishness and stupidity of “running APS like a business.” Yet, sadly, today, the school board and Superintendent Carstarphen run APS more like a business than even some businesses run business like a business—meaning, to run business in more regressive ways than in progressive ways, especially as related to the education of children labeled “Black.”

9. What policies or actions are questionable that Atlanta BOE has gotten wrong or failed to do in the last four years, such as teachers’ raises, teacher retention, inadequate bus service, overcrowded classes, inexperienced administrators, etc.?

I will here address two critical matters and reference a third. There are more.

Without question, the most damning action the school board took with the hiring of the currently serving superintendent nearly five years ago was to change APS into a Charter System by terms of a performance contract they and the superintendent executed with the state. That “bold action,” as the school board and superintendent proclaimed it, aligned with the superintendent’s “school turnaround” training by Harvard University and resulted in requiring every Atlanta public school be treated as if it were a charter school because the performance contract incorporates, by reference, The Charter Schools Act of 1992. This fact is not commonly known and understood.

Consequently, GO Teams in all Atlanta public schools. GO Teams are meant to be the functional equivalent of autonomous charter school governing boards. Unlike PTAs that are inherently democratic in function, GO Teams are inherently autocratic and authoritarian in function. GO Teams are the means by which the school board fractured their being held accountable for “control and management” of APS systemically per the AISS Charter, so as to then push the fragments of accountability down upon individual public schools and call the fragments of accountability, GO Teams. GO Teams lend credibility to, and provide a ready-made excuse for, maintaining schools segregated by so-called race and other social factors.

From the standpoint of policy, the school board got horribly wrong their new Policy BBBB, Ethics. Because racialist ideology was the central theme of their very first draft of the policy, I heavily involved myself in influencing the final outcome that considers human differences, not just so-called race. To their credit, at the urging of at least three school board members, the final ethics policy reflects my influence, verbatim. For example, although the school board’s Policy Review Committee Chairwoman, Cynthia Briscoe Brown, resisted even defining “ethics” in the policy, the approved ethics policy states:

“The Atlanta Board of Education recognizes equity means the quality or ideal of being just and fair, regardless of economic, social, cultural, and human differences among and between persons.”

These are my words, exactly. Nonetheless, ironically, in the majority “Black” school district that is APS, the school board’s new Policy BBBB, Ethics, institutionalizes regressive racialist ideology, although science shows so-called race is, in reality, just an illusion. Ironically still, the new ethics policy provides for loading school board and superintendent leadership failures to improve APS and to close “opportunity gaps” and such onto so-called race, ethnicity, and other external factors. Arguably, the non-democratic, anti-learning attitude is, “We, the school board, are the reverent authority. So if failure happens, it cannot possibly be our fault. It’s our job to make the hard decisions and hold other people accountable.” This attitude and attendant matters render the school board’s new Policy BBBB, Ethics, unethical.

On the matter of teacher pay and specifically the $3,000 pay increase for teachers, read my position at this reference:

10. Do you feel that the current superintendent should be offered a new contract for 2021?

No, I do not. The superintendent demonstrates being a diehard practitioner of the “school turnaround work” she has boldly and publicly proclaimed Harvard University “trained” her to do. However, neither APS nor any of its public schools have ever needed “school turnaround work.” Rather, the district and its public schools have always needed, and always will need, improvement. But to improve requires learning and being able to unlearn in the face of new knowledge. Persons “trained” for a job will generally seek to apply their training to a problem—that is, make the problem fit their current training—rather than open up to study and learn from the problem and what the problem may be trying to teach.

The superintendent has continually shown having a predilection for deceitfully deflecting, avoiding, hiding, and otherwise refusing to reveal facts that would reflect unfavorably on her personal aspirations. Take, for example, that the superintendent, as well as the school board, refuses to tell the public the fact of what “graduate rate” means. She, and they, refuse to call it by its official name, which is Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate (ACGR). If the public understood what ACGR means, the public would then understand “graduation rate” is an inflated lie. Understanding ACGR, the public might then enquire: “Well, what about Unadjusted Cohort Graduation Rate (UCGR)?” And if the public were to do that, then the public might discover ACGR for Atlanta public high schools appears to have gotten better but only because UCGR got worse. And that happens simply because most high school student loses occur in the earlier high school grades—9th and 10th—thus leaving fewer students in the later high school grades—11th and 12th—that turn out to be the basis (i.e., the denominator) for calculating “graduation rate.”

Improvement cannot occur based on deceit and lies.

11. Do you feel it is a conflict of interest that the chair of the APS Board is an attorney for the law firm that also services the charter school (for-profit) industry?

Yes, I do feel it is a conflict of interest. While it may be legal, it is not ethical. Moreover, the school board chairman and the many other attorneys and lawyers involved with APS seem to have debased the district to the point where law subsumes ethics. For example, it is perfectly lawful that the superintendent refuses to make public counts of students who started ninth grade for the first time at the start of any given school year, so as to prevent the public from determining unadulterated, non-politicized graduation rates. But is the superintendent’s behavior ethical? Ironically, I have learned not one bona fide ethicists serves or serves on the school board’s Ethics Commission; however, three attorneys and lawyers do.

12. Do you support a forensic audit investigation of the Atlanta Public Schools’ Charter School Systems by the GA Department of Education?

Actually, on 30 January 2019, I appealed to both the Georgia Senate’s Youth and Education Committee Officers and Members and the House of Representatives’ Education Committee Officers and Members to conduct a forensic financial audit of the school board and superintendent’s fiscal process and spending, especially spending in the category “Instruction.”

I wrote, in part:

“However, the APSL’s Excellent Schools project is not an excellent plan, as it aims to merely implement the ideological ‘portfolio of schools model’ that serves closing and privatizing public schools, especially public schools serving mostly children labeled ‘black.’

“The collective indication that the financial efficiency of the APSL fiscal process is out of control is only strengthened by the case that GADOE used three-year averages, so as to ‘smooth out variation in the data.’ In other words, although GADOE calculated averages, so as to ‘smooth out variation in the data,’ variation in the three-year averages attributable to the APSL fiscal process nonetheless remained great enough, and strong enough to still show up as detectable non-random variation, or variation due to something special going on.

“Thus the collective indication of the APSL fiscal process being out of control strongly suggests a forensic financial audit of that process is necessary in order to truly answer the essential question of why, at root-level.

“Moreover, any such audit might also take account of academic outcomes due to the quality of Atlanta Public Schools Leadership.”

Once on the school board representing District 2, I will see to it that a forensic financial audit happens.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He starts here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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.