Archives for category: Disruption

Thomas Ultican has analyzed the billionaire funders behind the pro-Disruption, anti-democracy website “Education Post.”

The major funders are the usual members of the Billionaire Boys and Girls Club: Bloomberg, Waltons, Chan Zuckerberg, and Mrs. Jobs.

Please open and read his post.

If you thought the Disrupters might have softened their tone during the pandemic, like, as a show of decency, you will be disappointed. They are still attacking, vilifying, and mocking anyone daring to defend public education, which is a cornerstone of our democracy. It must really upset them that after all these years and billions spent on privatization, only 6% of American students enroll in charter schools.

For some reason, I am one of their prime targets. I suppose I should take it as a compliment.

I will never answer in kind.

They are swimming in cash, but what they cannot buy is civility, kindness, compassion, or dignity.

In this recent article, Jeff Bryant examines Florida’s shameful response to the pandemic. As usual, legislators and Governor DeSanris took advantage of the crisis to add another voucher program, which will drain another $200 million from public schools to support for woefully inadequate voucher schools.

He writes:


“The COVID-19 crisis reveals the true intentions of people,” Kathleen Oropeza told me during a phone call. Oropeza is a public school mom in Orlando and founder of Fund Education Now, a non-partisan grassroots effort to advocate for public education in Florida.

Her remark was in the context of concerns about how state officials were governing schools as the coronavirus was spreading across the state and generating fears of how the disease would affect schools and families.

Days after the first victims tested positive in the state and the first deaths were reported, Florida lawmakers in the House seemed oblivious to the impending crisis and instead passed new legislation to expand the state’s voucher program, thus diverting an additional $200 million from the state’s public schools.

The bill passed despite evidence that many of the private schools that would receive the voucher money openly discriminate against LGBTQ children and families, are not required to hire certified teachers, and generally provide a subpar education.

But there is a bright side to the current crisis:

The rash of canceled tests across the country caused some knowledgeable observers to speculate on Twitter that the testing industry would not be able to withstand the financial difficulties of a nationwide cancelation. But what is also in danger is the whole policy imperative of the market-based education agenda.

Much in the same way that widespread teacher walkouts and the Red for Ed movement over the past two years revealed the overwhelming need for government officials to increase funding and support for frontline teachers, the mounting fallout of school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing politicians and policymakers to acknowledge the importance of schools as vital community institutions that need resources and support rather than fiscal austerity, privatization, and punitive accountability—the pillars of the market-based education movement.

Even amidst the avalanche of reported school closings, advocates of the market-based approach were lamenting the failure of their decades-long efforts.

“Neither standards and accountability nor charter schools have lived up to their promoters’ lofty aspirations. And there is much public unhappiness with school reform,” wrote Kevin Carey in an analysis for the Washington Post. Carey, a policy analyst for a Washington, D.C., think tank that favored the education reform agenda, worked for years in policy shops that pushed market-based agendas.

Carey noted a rising political opposition to market-based education advocates from the right and the left, including Tea Party Republicans who object to Common Core Standards and federal overreach in local decision-making and among progressive Democrats who are angered by the unfairness and inequities caused by market-based solutions.

But while he asserted that “School reform began with the civil rights movement,” he completely ignored the econometric principles that ended up driving privatization policies rather than the moral values of human rights and justice that powered the civil rights movement. Market-based education advocates have long obsessed over rigid standards, outcome measures, and competition from charter schools rather than providing schools and students with what they really needed, especially in communities that rely heavily on schools as anchor institutions.

Will elected officials and think tank analysts recognize the failure of standards, testing,
accountability, competition, and market-based policies to close achievement gaps, to reduce poverty, to lift up the neediest students, and to achieve any of their alleged goals?

Please: would the “reformers” acknowledge the failure of their prescriptions and stop claiming, without a shred of evidence, that annual standardized testing is a “civil right,” when it is actually stigmatizing children who are repeatedly labeled as “failures” by the testing indistry?

I confess that I was very disappointed by the review of my new book in the New York Times. The reviewer thought that I should have presented “both sides,” not argued on behalf of public schools, which enroll 85-90% of American children. If we starve the public schools that enroll most children, we harm them and the future of our society. I debated whether to respond on this blog but then decided against it. Sometimes it is best to remain silent.

Happily, Neil Kulick, a teacher, critiqued the review. He posted his comment here.

Thank you, Neil!

He writes:

Your new book gives public school teachers (like me) hope. You are truly our champion. Thank you.

A while back, I read the review of “Slaying Goliath” in the NY Times. I did not quite like the review. Here is my reply to it:

Readers of Annie Murphy Paul’s review of Diane Ravitch’s “Slaying Goliath” (in the February 2 NYT Book Review) can be forgiven for thinking that Professor Ravitch has lost her way and written a book in which she exults in the failures of all who are interested in strengthening our public schools.

In fact, “Slaying Goliath” is a work of meticulous scholarship that chronicles the failure of every single “reform” in recent decades, most of them market-based (as if children or their teachers were commodities, or schools factories) and virtually all funded by billionaires who know little about teaching and learning but are glad to call the shots when it comes to our schools. Professor Ravitch is not against reform but rather the particular set of “reforms” that have been foisted on our public schools and our teachers and students, including so-called merit pay and the oddity of evaluating teachers based on their students’ test scores. Her book ends with a call for genuine reform, which would require adequately funding our public schools so that they have a fair chance of educating a population that includes so many children born into poverty and who come to school already behind and lacking the supports at home of their more affluent peers. It would also require funding programs to support impoverished families. Our public schools are not broken; our society is.

Professor Ravitch accurately terms those who push (and, astonishingly, continue to push) for these failed reforms “disrupters,” because the purpose or effect of their actions is to undermine the very institution of the public school. And yes, Professor Ravitch does name names. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, for one, is not an advocate of public schools. Rather she favors “choice,” as if that were an end in itself. But that choice does not include a well-funded public school for every child, though if Secretary DeVos had her way it would include a charter school. Charter schools, unfortunately, are generally no better than public schools, and some are militaristic, so that students learn not to question but to obey. Nor are charters known for serving the needs of children with learning disabilities or who have emotional or behavioral problems or for whom English is not their first language. They do, however, succeed in draining money from public schools.

Ultimately, Professor Ravitch is optimistic, believing that today’s “reformers” will inevitably lose, despite their vast wealth, because the “resisters” — parents and grandparents, schoolchildren, and their teachers — are multitudinous and motivated by passion. And they cannot be bought. As a public school teacher, I hope Professor Ravitch is right.

Some might wonder why public schools matter. Apart from the fact that the vast majority of American schoolchildren attend them, public schools are our best hope for a flourishing democracy. In public schools, children from diverse backgrounds come together as one community. They learn together, and they learn from each other. John Dewey understood how essential public schools are to our way of life: “A democracy,” he wrote, “is more than a form of government; it is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience.”* It is just this “conjoint communicated experience” that public schools afford.

The charter industry has lots of problems with stability. The charters open and suddenly close. Scandals and corruption are commonplace so much so that Carol Burris says there is a “crisis of corruption in the charter industry.”

Theft and fraud are predictable when non-educators, entrepreneurs and grifters get public money and can open or close their school without any accountability or oversight.

So in Philadelphia, the second-largest charter in the City is in trouble.

Philadelphia’s second-largest charter school has a large budget deficit, a CEO on leave, and some sort of problem related to the identification of special education students.

It’s the kind of financial and administrative turmoil that would draw major headlines at a large, traditional school district. But the K-12 school at the center of the tumult refuses to say much of anything — and only recently published a six-sentence letter on its website explaining that it had made a personnel change.

Despite repeated requests for comment, First Philadelphia Preparatory Charter School in Bridesburg has declined to explain why or how it found itself in, what one official called, a “difficult time of transition.”

Here’s what we know.

Longtime CEO Joseph Gillespie is on a leave of absence and has been replaced, on an interim basis, by Carleene Slowik. The 1,850-student school sent a brief note to parents Wednesday explaining the change — only after WHYY contacted the school and asked for clarification about the leadership situation.
Before that note, the school would not divulge whether Gillespie was still working at First Philadelphia — or even who was in charge of the school, which is affiliated with a charter management company called American Paradigm Schools.

A lawyer representing First Philadelphia said the school had no comment on the situation. Nor would he say who was currently running the campus. Several attempts to reach Gillespie were unsuccessful.

No oversight. No accountability. No transparency.

A relatively new corporate reform group—the City Fund—acts as a pass-through for billionaires Reed Hastings (Netflix) and John Arnold (ex-Enron). The staff consists of six or seven (or more) veterans of the privatization movement. It opened its operations with $200 million in pledges from its billionaire funders. It has staff but no members. Its mission is to push the “portfolio district” (i.e., more charter schools) in designated cities. In short, the City Fund was designed to advance the goals of its billionaire funders, who have no relationship to the cities whose schools they want to disrupt. Grassroots groups in every city and state can only dream about what they could do if they had even $1 million in the bank.

One of the staff, Chris Barbic, started a charter chain in Houston (YES Prep), then became leader of the disastrous Achievement School District in Tennessee; he promised to lift the state’s lowest performing schools into the ranks of its highest performing in only five years by handing them over to charter operators. The ASD burned through $100 million in Race to the Top and failed to turn any of its takeover schools into a high-performing school. If anything, it proved that turning low-performing schools over to charter operators doesn’t produce change.

Another staffer, Neerav Kingsland, is a law school graduate and a Broadie who was CEO of New Schools for New Orleans. After Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans eliminated the teachers’ union and eventually eliminated every public school. The 2019 state report card rated 49% of the schools as D or F schools. The students in the lowest performing schools are almost all black. Hardly a success story.

Matt Barnum writes in Chalkbeat that the City Fund has dispensed over $100 million to help achieve its funders’ goal of detaching schools from elected school boards.

The newest major player in school reform has already issued more than $110 million in grants to support the growth of charter and charter-like schools across the U.S.

The City Fund’s spending, detailed on a new website, means the organization has quickly become one of the country’s largest K-12 education grantmakers. The money has gone to organizations in more than a dozen cities, including Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Denver, Memphis, and Oakland.

The spending is evidence that The City Fund’s brand of school reform continues to attract major financial support — and may foretell more battles over education politics in those cities…

The City Fund’s strategy is to grow the number of schools, including charters, run by nonprofits rather than traditional school boards. Advocates say that shift will help low-income students of color, pointing to academic improvements in virtually all-charter New Orleans as one example. Critics argue that strategy undermines teachers unions, democratically elected school boards, and existing public schools.

Overall, The City Fund says it has raised $225 million, largely from Netflix founder Reed Hastings and Texas philanthropist John Arnold. (Chalkbeat is funded by Arnold Ventures.) The organization has also created a political arm, Public School Allies, which has raised $15 million from Hastings and Arnold to support officials vying for state and local office.

The funders of the City Fund think that democratically elected school boards are the biggest obstacle to school reform. They like charter schools and stake takeovers. The fact that they have zero evidence that their strategies improve education doesn’t stop them, as long as the money keeps flowing. Unless you are impressed by a district, New Orleans, where half the schools are rated D or F.

This is a really great podcast that I enjoyed taping with brothers Mike and Fred Klonsky on their podcast “Hitting Left” while I was in Chicago. We borrowed time from our host Mario Smith, because the show occurred while Mario was on the air. Start with the photograph of the four of us holding baseball bats, the better to hit left with. Mike and Fred are veteran activists. While Mike was a leader of Students for a Democratic Society decades ago, I was a budding neoconservative. I remember reading about this fiery radical and never imagined that one day we would be friends. Fred and Mike asked some interesting questions, and it’s a wide-ranging discussion. Mario, a former art teacher in the Chicago Public Schools joined in. He referred to the”illustrious” Klonsky brothers, and so they shall remain.  We had fun.

This is an astonishing report about the destruction and privatization of public schools in Oakland, California, and the billionaires who facilitated the looting of that city. The article by Eugene Stovall appeared in “Black Agenda Report.” The audacity of this attack on public education is astonishing. The mechanism for the destroyers were graduates of the Broad Academy, known as Broadies. Since billionaire Eli Broad gave Yale University $100 million to take charge of his program, someone should warn Yale about its record.

Read it all. It will take your breath away.

Stovall writes:

Eli Broad (rhymes with “toad”) conconcted a scheme to privatize Oakland’s public schools and produce a revenue stream for his billionaire cronies.

Operating unethically and illegally, Broad managers used their training to cripple and plunder Oakland’s schools.”

Eli Broad is a liberal Democrat. He opposes Trump’s Muslim ban, immigration policies and withdrawal from the climate change treaty. In fact, like Democratic billionaires Tom Steyer and Michael Blloomberg, Broad opposes Trump’s entire right wing agenda. However, just as the Trump Foundation created the Trump University scam, the Eli Broad Foundation created the Broad Superintendent Academy, an educational enterprise that has become so successful that it is now associated with the home of the Skull and Bones Society, Yale University. But despite its aura of respectability, the Broad Superintendent Academy is no less a scam than Trump University.

Billionaires Want More

Eli Broad created two Fortune 500  companies, Kaufmann-Broad Homes and SunAmerica Bank. With an estimated net worth of $6.7 billion, Eli Broad ranks as Forbes  Magazine’s 78th wealthiest man in the United States. But like many billionaires who create mechanisms to increase their wealth, Broad created a “non-profit” academy as his entré into the private education market. The Broad Superintendent Academy attracts applicants who willingly pay exorbitant tuition fees for the chance to get placed in a top management public education position. Broad academy applicants do not need educational degrees or teaching certificates. Neither are they experienced teachers or successful school administrators. The Broad academy is uninterested in strategies for improving student achievement and does not teach its students about fundamental educational issues, pedagogies and methodologies. The Broad academy only indoctrinates and commits its students to the privatization of public education and the generation of revenues for private corporations. Broad Academy attendees are taught the disruptive management tactics needed to ignore “best educational practices.” They are taught how to overcome objections when mandating school closures and school property sell offs to the billionaire-owners of private schools. When Broad placed his academy graduates in management positions at the Oakland Unified School District, they left a trail of fiscal mismanagement, budget overruns and demoralized staff, students and teachers. Operating unethically and illegally, Broad managers used their training to cripple and plunder Oakland’s schools.

The Broadies Who Plundered Oakland’s Schools

In 1998, Eli Broad recruited Jerry Brown, the former Governor of California and a former presidential contender, to become mayor of Oakland. Broad needed someone with Brown’s political clout with the Democratic Party to implement his plan to privatize Oakland’s schools. Broad had been a close personal friend of Jerry Brown’s father, Pat Brown, and had financed all of Jerry Brown’s political campaigns. Now Broad realized California’s top Democrat and his control over the statewide Democratic Party machine gave him a unique opportunity to make money from private education.

Broad’s scheme to privatize Oakland’s public education resources required the support of other billionaires capitalizing on the private education market. Netflix founder, Reed Hastings, a Bay Area resident with a net worth of $3.7 billion, was associated with the multi-million dollar Rocketship Charter Schools. The late founder of The Gap, Don Fisher, with a net worth of $3.3 billion, was associated with the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), one of the largest chains of charter schools in the country. With a net worth of $3.5 billion, John Doerr, partner in the investment firm, Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers, the firm that brought Google and Amazon to the market, cofounded the New Schools Venture Fund which sucks public school resources into for-profit K-12 corporations. Another critical partner in Broad’s clique of billionaires was the bishop of Oakland’s catholic diocese, a representative of the multi-billion dollar, worldwide Vatican empire. With its profound interest in co-opting public funds and real estate for its own network of parochial schools, Oakland’s catholic bishop gave Broad’s unholy coalition a solid block of votes that not only put Jerry Brown in City Hall, but changed Oakland’s charter into the ‘strong mayor” form of government, that gave “Boss” Brown the power function as Eli Broad’s “bag man.” In return for its electoral support, the diocese of Oakland received a multi-million dollar cathedral on the downtown shore of Lake Merritt.

Once “Boss” Brown controlled City Hall, Reed Hastings went into action. Hastings funded another charter amendment that gave the mayor the authority to pack the school board with his own unelected appointees. Greasing the wheels of the Democratic machine, Hastings financed the passage of a State Assembly bill that permitted charter schools to operate without  accreditation and to hire teachers without  teaching credentials. Then Hastings funded the Proposition 39 campaign to force local school districts to share revenues with charter schools. “Boss” Brown’s buddy, Democratic Governor Gray Davis, who later was recalled on corruption charges, put Reed Hastings on the State Board of Education. In the meantime, Don Fisher gave Jerry Brown’s wife, Gust Brown, the position of CEO over The Gap Corporation.

Getting Control Of The Schools … And The Money

In 2001, the Oakland Unified School District had a $37 million budget deficit. The district’s fiscal managers decided to resolve the shortfall by borrowing from its construction fund, a practice other California school districts in similar situations routinely used. But Brown and Broad saw the school deficit as an opportunity to advance their scheme.

Brown contacted Tom Henry, CEO of the Fiscal Crisis and Management Team (FCMAT), a firm located in Sacramento and staffed by lobbyists and political hacks. Brown used Henry’s services, on occasion, when he was governor. FCMAT did “hit” jobs for anyone willing to pay. Brown paid Tom Henry to prevent Oakland from solving its fiscal problem. FCMAT lobbied the State Attorney General, Bill Lockyer, the former Democratic Assemblyman from Alameda, to rule that Oakland’s plan to borrow construction funds was a violation of state and local law. Then Henry worked with Don Perata, the State Senator for Alameda County, to lobby a bill through the state legislature that forced the Oakland school district to accept a $100 million loan to cover its $37 million shortfall. In addition, the bill put the Oakland school district under the control of a state administrator to be appointed by Jack O’Connell, the State Superintendent of Public Education. When Jack O’Connell campaigned for state superintendent, he received financial support from Eli Broad’s billionaire cabal. Reed Hastings contributed $250,000, John Doerr $205,000 and Eli Broad, himself, contributed $100,000 to O’Connell’s campaign. With the state takeover of Oakland’s schools, O’Connell agreed to appoint anyone “Boss” Brown wanted. Thus Eli Broad and his cronies got complete control over the $63 million slush fund  forced on the Alameda County tax payers. Jerry Brown described the state takeover as a “total win” for Oakland’s schools. In reality, the state takeover was a total win for Eli Broad and his billionaire cronies. For the tax payers forced to repay the loan and for the Oakland school children whose schools were plundered by malicious billionaires, the state takeover was a disaster.

The Table Was Set And The Feasting Began

The Democratic state superintendent of education, Jack O’Connell, appointed Randolph Ward, a graduate of Broad’s superintendent academy, as Oakland’s state administrator. Ward appointed Arnold Carter, another Broad academy graduate, to serve as his chief of staff. Both state administrators appointed a bevy of Broadies  to fill the Oakland school district’s top management positions. Then Ward implemented Broad’s privatization agenda. He closed public schools and opened charter schools. He created additional management positions for Broad academy graduates and issued multi-million dollar consultation and construction contracts to private corporations. Randolph Ward gave Broad’s billionaire cronies complete access to the $63 million slush fund created by top Democrats, Jerry Brown, Bill Lockyer, Don Perata, Jack O’Connell, Tom Henry as well as other members of “Boss” Brown’s Democratic machine.

When the state took over the Oakland schools in 2002, Randolph Ward fired the superintendent, Dennis Chaconas. When Ward resigned in 2006, Broadie Kimberly Statham replaced him. A year later, Statham left and her chief of staff, Vincent Matthews, another Broadie, took her place.

In 2008, Oakland Assemblyman Sandre Swanson broke with “Boss” Brown and introduced a bill to force the state to relinquish its control over Oakland schools. Eli Broad gave a Sacramento lobbyist $350,000 to oppose Swanson’s legislation, but Swanson’s bill passed and local control was returned to the Oakland School Board. In July 2009, the school board hired Anthony “Tony” Smith as the district’s superintendent.

Smith was not associated with Eli Broad. However, even though local school board resumed control over the schools, Eli Broad was not finished, He funded a front group, Greater Oakland [GO], which financed the election of five Broadies to the Oakland school board. In 2014, the Broadie school board forced school superintendent Tony Smith to resign and appointed another graduate from Broad’s academy, Antwan Wilson , Oakland’s next school superintendent, resuming Broad’s decade-long privatization scheme.

A Decade of Corruption

Under Randolph Ward, Oakland Schools struggled with the overwhelming debt imposed by the Democratic Party machine. When Ward left Oakland, millions of dollars went missing with him. Though FCMAT received a multi-year contract to help manage the debt, Tom Henry provided little substantive support, financial or operational. In 2007, Jerry Brown left Oakland for his cattle ranch in Northern California. In its 2007-08 report, an Alameda County grand jury investigation found that the Oakland Unified School District had been looted.

Between 2003 and 2006, Ward shut down 14 public schools and opened 13 charter schools. He increased the district’s shortfall by nearly $15 million. Ward’s successor, Kimberly Statham, another Broadie, opened 4 charter schools and Broadie Vincent Matthews, who followed Stratham as state administrator, opened 9 charter schools. Under state control, the district’s debt ballooned from $37 million to $89 million while school enrollment, the district’s primary source of funding, dropped from 55,000 in 2002 to 38,000 in 2009. When Assemblyman Sandré Swanson forced the state to return local control, Oakland’s schools had $5.6 million less than what was reported and a total of $9 million unaccounted for and completely missing. But with the return of local control, the district’s fiscal mismanagement problems only worsened. Eli Broad now directed his Broadie school board to support his schemes. 

Antwan Wilson: The Most Corrupt Broadie Of Them All 

When the Broadie school board replaced Tony Smith with Antwan Wilson, it hired a thoroughly corrupt, incompetent and morally reprehensible superintendent to run the Oakland Unified School District. Ignoring all budgetary, ethical and legal constraints, Wilson zealously implemented Broad’sprivatization plan. Wilson overspent the school district budget by overpaying Broadie administrators and conniving with Broadie consultants. In 2015, though the school board authorized only $10.4 million, Wilson paid consultants $22.6 million. The board approved only $7.1 million for administrators and supervisors, but Wilson spent $22.3 million. From July 2014 to January 2015, Wilson spent $22.3 million on district office managers while Smith spent only $13.1 million the entire previous year. From 2013-2014, Tony Smith spent $10 million on classified managers, but in 2015-2016, Antwan Wilson spent $22.3 million. Under Wilson, the number of students shrunk, but spending for administrators and supervisors with teaching certificates grew from $13.9 million in 2013-2014 to $20 million in 2015-2016. Wilson increased spending on outside consultants from $22.7 million in 2013-2014 to $28.3 million in 2016-2017. In Wilson’s last year with Oakland schools, he exceeded the budget for consultants by 32 percent.

These revelations galvanized Tom Henry’s FCMAT into action. Henry immediately lobbied for another state take over even as he collaborated with the Broadie school board to close even more schools and make even more valuable real estate available to billionaire-owned charter schools. But without Boss Brown’s backing, Henry was unsuccessful in getting Governor Gavin Newson’s support for another state takeover.

Open the article and read the ending. It doesn’t get better for the students of Oakland. Eli Broad, Jerry Brown, and their allies used Oakland as their Petri dish. Oakland was raided and looted. Antwan Wilson left Oakland to become chancellor of the D.C.schools, where he was booted out after seeking preferential treatment for his own child. Upon Wilson’s abrupt departure, the mayor of D.C. replaced him with Lewis Ferebee, superintendent of Indianapolis, who is also a graduate of the Broad Academy.

Jan Resseger, tireless champion for social and economic justice, reflects on the fading reputation of the charter industry. The decision by the Trump administration to axe the federal Charter Schools Program (DeVos’s slush fund for corporate charter chains) is the latest affront to an industry that once was regarded as the great hope for innovation and effectiveness but got overwhelmed by scandals and profiteering.

Resseger credits the dramatic turn in the public reputation of the charter industry to the work of the Network for Public Education and its executive director Carol Burris.

Burris brings to her work the experience of a veteran educator, a teacher and principal who spots scams quickly. Burris also has a rock solid sense of integrity that makes her unwilling to tolerate organizations that are designed to benefit the adults, not the students. She is the quintessential embodiment of the “David” I wrote about in my book SLAYING GOLIATH. She works with passion and dedication because of a sense of mission, not for love of money. She is a mortal threat to the Goliaths who wear the fake mantel of education reform. She can’t be bought and she can’t be stopped. Unlike the hirelings of Goliath, she really does work for the children, for whom she has worked all her life.

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma, reviews SLAYING GOLIATH. This is the second part of his review.

This is an excerpt of a long and thoughtful review.

This second post will focus on Ravitch’s analysis of the research which predicted the defeat of accountability-driven, charter-driven policies. Perhaps the most striking pattern documented in Slaying Goliath is how they failed in the way that scholars and practitioners anticipated.

Decades of Disruption-driven reform began with the false claim “that American education was failing and the only way to fix it was with standards, tests, competition, and accountability.” As Arne Duncan’s public relations officer and Walton-funded reformer Peter Cunningham said, “We measure what we treasure.”

Ravitch’s response was, “I was taken aback because I could not imagine how to measure what I treasure: my family, my friends, my pets, my colleagues, my work, the art and books I have collected.” And that foreshadows the victory of the Resistance over Goliath. Most educators, patrons, and students agree that children are more than a test score.

No Child Left Behind and the Race to the Top set impossible test score targets. They were based in large part on the weird idea that “no-excuses” behaviorist pedagogies could be quickly “scaled up,” providing poor children of color a ladder to economic equality. Drawing on the tradition of Edward Thorndike and B.F. Skinner, reformers “rigidly prescribed conditioning via punishments and rewards.” Previewing their fatal flaw, Ravitch observes, “Behaviorists, and the Disrupters who mimic them today, lack appreciation for the value of divergent thinking, and the creative potential of variety. And they emphatically discount mere ‘feelings.’”

When educators resisted, corporate reformers became livid and doubled down on the punitive. Perhaps their worst debacle was using value-added teacher evaluations to hold each individual educator accountable for test score growth. It combined inappropriate test outputs with an unreliable and invalid algorithm, the VAM, as a club to enforce compliance. In the short run, it forced educators, who had previously tried to keep their heads down and “monkey wrench” testing mandates to join patrons and students in the Resistance. By 2018, however, pent up anger exploded as teacher strikes spread across the nation.

Today, many or most of Goliath’s coalition have become disenchanted with standardized testing, but their Disruption model can’t function without it. Few have gone as far as Paymon Rouhanifard, the former Camden superintendent who abolished report cards after listening to complaints, and denounced standardized testing as he left the job.

The more common path is to spin their punitive tests as “personalized” learning, and their incentives and disincentives as the “portfolio model.” As Ravitch explains, “A portfolio district is one where the local board (or some entity operating in its stead) acts like a stockbrokerage, holding onto winners (schools with high test scores) and getting rid of losers (schools with low test scores).”

As was also predicted by Campbell’s Law, test-driven accountability (made more intimidating by the dual threat of test-driven competition with charters) led to corruption. The cheating was far greater than just the scandals where adults erased and changed bubble-in answers. Graduation rates were easy to manipulate. For instance, NPR reported a “heartwarming story” in 2017 about a school with 100% graduation rate. A subsequent FBI investigation and a district audit found 1/3rd of the school’s graduates lacked credits and only 42% were on track to graduation.

And that leads to the corruption associated with school choice. Today’s Disrupters seem to be doubling down on charters to drive transformative change. As explained in a previous post, in 1988 Al Shanker saw charters as a path towards innovation. Within two years, however, the promise of win-win experimentation started to be undermined when conservative reformers Terry Moe and John Chubb claimed “choice is a panacea.”

In this case, it was choice-advocate Paul Peterson who predicted the political future. Charters didn’t take off because of the balanced approach of Shanker, but because reformers “radicalized” the concept. And, of course, there was plenty of big bucks available for pushing their radical but false narrative.

Within a decade, a shocking number of non-educators had been convinced by Goliath’s spinsters that the KIPP’s behaviorist model could be scaled up. As Slaying Goliath explains, “The biggest innovation in the charter sector was the invention of ‘no-excuses’ schools.” It took nearly another decade for policy makers to accept the fact that charters get average results except for those with high attrition.” And it took nearly as long to reveal the much greater down sides of charters…

Regardless of whether we’re discussing high-stakes testing, charter expansion, or the other pet theories, we should all heed Ravitch’s most important lesson of the past few decades is that “Reform doesn’t mean reform. It means mass demoralization, chaos, and turmoil. Disruption does not produce better education.”

Slaying Goliath celebrates a great victory for public education and democracy. However, Ravitch reminds us that the Disrupters are still threatening. She compares today’s danger to that which faced a man who decapitated a rattlesnake but who nearly died after being bitten by the detached head.

So, we can’t lower our guard until the principles that inspired the Resistance are safe in our schools.

 

One of the regular commenters on the blog signs in as NYC Public School Parent.

She wrote the following:

The ed reformers have set up a game with rules in which they always win.

If 100% of students in public schools are meeting standards, then the standards are too low.

If 50% of students in public schools are meeting standards, then the schools are terrible.

If a charter comes in and cherry picks from the 50% of students who meet standards, then the charter is performing miracles because 100% of their students meet standards.

If a public magnet comes in and cherry picks from the 50% of students who meet standards, then the public school is wrongly cherry picking students and look, the 50% who are left are still not meeting standards.

If a charter has 100 students in 9th grade and 4 years later only 60 of them make it to 12th grade, the charter has a 100% graduation rate because all 60 seniors graduate.

If a public school has 100 students in 9th grade and 4 years later has 90 students and “only” 70 of them graduate, the public school is a failure.

The ed reformers could not get away with this if the education reporters at major newspapers did not demonstrate their incompetence every single day when they accept every press release and study put out by ed reformers as the gospel truth. Too many overprivileged education reporters are so terrified of numbers that they cannot even envision that a charter that starts with 100 students in 9th grade and graduates 60 is not performing the miracles in which 100% of their students are high performing scholars. It is beyond their very limited ability to take a deep dive into numbers. These reporters write as if they were simply acting as stenographers for the PR groups. Their stories are as ridiculous as if a medical/science reporter kept reporting: “This brand name cough medicine cures 100% of the children with serious coughs, as proven by this never peer reviewed study which started with 100 children taking this brand name cough medicine in which 50 children disappeared from the study. We know that the number of kids who disappeared from this brand name cough medicine study is irrelevant because the people at the brand name cough medicine company explained to us that all those children who disappeared had parents who – once they saw that their child would be miracle-cured – decided that they would rather see their children suffer.”

Would science reporters simply report that the cough medicine had 100% cure rates because they accepted as gospel that there were large numbers of parents who had enrolled their kids in that study and then decided they’d prefer their child suffer and stop taking this miracle medicine? Would science reporters say “it doesn’t matter if 25% of the kids disappeared, if 50% of the kids disappeared, or if 80% of the kids disappeared from this study because the people running it told me these missing kids’ parents wanted them to suffer with coughs once their kid started experience the miracle of our cure.”

Would science reporters ignore all the parents publicly explaining how their kids were pushed out of these studies? Would science reporters say “we already know from the cough medicine maker that you just wanted your child to suffer from the cough so we are still going to report that this medicine miraculous cures 100% of the kids who take it.” Or would they listen to parents and say “hey, it’s clear something very fishy and corrupt is going on”.

Would a science reporter make that judgement based on the race and class of the children who leave the study, and if their parents are white and middle class, then reporters are skeptical of the cough medicine company’s claims that they want their children to suffer more instead of being cured. But if those parents are African-American, do those science reporters simply accept as gospel what the cough medicine company tells them is true, that those parents prefer to see their children suffer than be cured and that’s the only reason their kids disappeared from the study?

It seems like education reporters don’t feel the need to ask any questions when the kids who disappear are African-American and Latinx with few other resources. They accept as gospel that their parents prefer to see them suffer, and it never occurs to those white education reporters that perhaps their parents are pulling them BECAUSE the charters are making their kids suffer. I have no doubt that those white education reporters would ask a whole lot more questions if all the missing students were white.