Archives for category: Obama

When I was writing The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (2010), I researched the history of merit pay. I learned that it has been tried again and again for a century, and it has always failed. Business-minded people think that the lure of a bonus will force teachers to work harder and get better results. But merit pay doesn’t work. Its main effect is to demoralize teachers. Michael Bloomberg tried it in NYC, and it failed. It was tried in Tennessee from 2007-2010 with a fat bonus of $15,000. It failed there too. Wherever it was tried, it failed. The theory is wrong, and as the great W. Edwards Deming argued, it doesn’t work in business either.

In 2010, I was invited to meet with the Domestic Policy leadership at the Obama White Housek (Melody Barnes, head of the Domestic Policy Council; Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s chief of staff; and Roberto Rodriguez, the President’s education advisor). They asked me what I thought of the Common Core standards. I suggested that they give it a trial in two or three states and see how it works before rolling it out nationally. They dismissed the thought. They said national standards had to be in place by 2012, before the election. Then they asked what I thought of merit pay, and I said what I wrote here in the first paragraph. They told me that they were releasing $1 billion for a Teacher Incentive Fund. Waste of my time. Probably a waste of theirs too.

I recently ran across this story from Charleston, South Carolina, that appeared in The Post and Courier, the local newspaper, in 2016. It is an obituary for the city’s federal Teacher Incentive Fund grant.

Paul Bowers wrote:

Three years and $11.7 million later, the Charleston County School District doesn’t have much to show for its controversial program that linked teacher pay to student performance.

The Bridge program, devised during previous Superintendent Nancy McGinley’s administration and funded by a $23.7 million Teacher Incentive Fund grant, was supposed to encourage and retain quality teachers by rewarding them financially for good performance. Instead, teacher turnover increased at most of the program’s pilot schools, and internal polls showed that teachers weren’t motivated by the sometimes-paltry payouts.

The district has spent more than half of the grant so far, with only $614,900 going to teacher bonuses since 2013. The bulk has gone to pay consultants and a top-heavy bureaucracy of teacher coaches and evaluators to keep the program running.

The school board voted in February to pay one last round of teacher bonuses this fall and let the federal government keep the remainder of the funds. After that, Bridge will die a quiet death.

Well, quiet for some. For Drayton Hall Elementary teacher Patrick Hayes, the founder of the advocacy group EdFirstSC who has railed against the plan since the district won the grantin 2012, it’s hard not to say “I told you so.”

“It’s absolutely eroded trust and morale. There’s a universal sense that people don’t believe we’re doing our jobs,” Hayes said.

While Hayes said most teachers are comfortable with a principal observing them in class, they were often nervous waiting for the next surprise visit from an evaluator hired by the district office.

“When you get people focused on external rewards, they’re so anxious about those rewards, they focus on that instead of the job you want them to do,” Hayes said. “Overall, the notion that we need the adults to feel more nervous so that the kids will do better is flawed.”

McGinley declined to comment for this story.

Bridge started as a pilot program in 13 high-poverty, high-turnover schools, including North Charleston High and Burns Elementary. Using a formula based on student test score improvements, classroom observations and state evaluations, the district started doling out yearly bonuses of $1,000 to $4,000 for high-performing teachers and school administrators at those schools.

According to the timetable for the federal grant, the district was supposed to start evaluating all of its teachers on the Bridge measures this school year and roll out the raises to every school starting in 2016-17. District Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait estimated in February that the rollout would put a $5 million dent in the district’s already-tight budget next year alone. And once the five-year grant runs out, the district would be on the hook to fund the program without federal support.

School board Chairwoman Cindy Bohn Coats said she didn’t vote to end Bridge because it was an abject failure but because it wasn’t a big enough success to justify the expense.

“With these grants, you have to show such a success that when the grant ends, you’re willing to forgo something you’re doing in favor of that, or find a way to continue paying for it,” Coats said.

Long before Postlewait and the board nixed Bridge, teachers were railing against the program. An October report from the Charleston Teacher Alliance recommended returning the grant money to federal coffers, citing a survey that found just 16 percent of teachers in Bridge pilot schools thought the program was working.

“We are paid for our service, not for its outcome,” said Charleston Teacher Alliance Director Jody Stallings, a Moultrie Middle teacher. “The same is true of soldiers, police officers and doctors, for very good reason. The factors that go into our success depend on so much more than individual effort.”

Stallings said his group tried to convince both the McGinley administration and interim Superintendent Michael Bobby that the Bridge plan was “flawed, wasteful and doomed.” But it wasn’t until after Postlewait took office in July that the tide started to turn against the plan.

Despite Bridge’s many outspoken detractors, a district spokesman wrote that the program “received favorable feedback” when federal Teacher Incentive Fund workers paid a visit in spring 2015. And it did have local supporters, even toward the end.

In November, shortly after taking over responsibility for Bridge from previous district leaders, Project Director Anita Huggins wrote in an email to Postlewait that a panel of five school principals unanimously supported accepting another year’s worth of grant money. Listing some of the principals’ comments, she wrote that returning the funds during an $18 million budget crisis “could be a significant PR challenge” and “could exacerbate CCSD’s culture of ‘not finishing’ anything.”

“Regardless of whether we admit it,” she quoted one principal as saying, “the grant has resulted in an increased awareness of student achievement data.”

By that time, Bridge was already hobbled. In October, the district office had reassigned 10 TIF grant-funded professional development coordinators to school-level positions paid by the General Operating Fund, moving them out of the Bridge program. Postlewait had also begun putting a wide array of district projects under the microscope, from reading interventions to behavior management programs, looking for a “return on investment” to justify their continued existence.

Bridge wasn’t a total loss. The district was able to collect classroom observation and student growth data for “nearly all teachers” this school year, according to a district spokesman, and the program put the district ahead of the curve when the state started requiring all teachers to complete student learning objective paperwork.

Coats said she hopes conversations like the one that brought about Bridge’s demise will become a regular occurrence as the district moves toward a zero-based budgeting system that takes no expense for granted.

“I don’t think Charleston County School District will ever be a truly successful district until we are willing to do that on an annual basis,” Coats said. “Look at programs. Are they working? Should we expand them? Should they continue?”

Who is responsible for the widespread teaching exodus? Who demoralized America’s teachers, the professionals who work tirelessly for low wages in oftentimes poor working conditions? Who smeared and discouraged an entire profession, one of the noblest of professions?

Let’s see:

Federal legislation, including No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

George W. Bush; Margaret Spellings; Rod Paige (who likened the NEA to terrorists); the Congressional enablers of NCLB; Sandy Kress (the mastermind behind the harsh, punitive and ultimately failed NCLB).

Erik Hanushek, the economist who has long advocated for firing the teachers whose students get low test scores; the late William Sanders, the agricultural economist who created the methodology to rank teachers by their students’ scores; Raj Chetty, who produced a study with two other economists claiming that “one good teacher” would enhance the lifetime earnings of a class by more than $200,000; the reporters at the Los Angeles Times who dreamed up the scheme of rating teachers by student scores abd publishing their ratings, despite their lack of validity (one LA teacher committed suicide).

Davis Guggenheim, director of the deeply flawed “Waiting for Superman”; Bill Gates and his foundation, who funded the myth that the nation’s schools would dramatically improve by systematically firing low-ranking teachers (as judged by their students’ scores), funded “Waiting for Superman,” funded the Common Core, funded NBC’s “Education Nation,” which gave the public school bashers a national platform for a few days every year, until viewers got bored and the program died; and funded anything that was harmful to public schools and their teachers; President Obama and Arne Duncan, whose Race to the Top required states to evaluate teachers by their students’ scores and required states to adopt the Common Core and to increase the number of charter schools; Jeb Bush, for unleashing the Florida “model” of punitive accountability; and many more.

We now know that ranking teachers by their students’ test scores does not identify the best and the worst teachers. It is ineffective and profoundly demoralizing.

We now know that charter schools do not outperform public schools, as many studies and NAEP data show.

We now know that public schools are superior to voucher schools, and that the voucher schools have high attrition rates.

We now know that Teach for America is not a good substitute for well-prepared professional teachers.

Who did I leave out?

We have long known that students need experienced teachers and reasonable class sizes (ideally less than 25) to do their best.

Given the vitriolic attacks on teachers and public schools for more than 20 years, it almost seems as though there is a purposeful effort to demoralize teachers and replace them with technology.

I somehow missed a story that appeared in Education Week last February, identifying the background of Biden appointees to the U.S. Department of Education. What is interesting about the story, aside from knowing who the appointees are, is what is not said about DFER, the hedge-fund managers’ lobby for charter schools and high-stakes teachers’ evaluation, and Chiefs for Change, founded by Jeb Bush to promote privatization and high-stakes testing.

Andrew Ujifusa wrote:

The latest round of political appointees to the U.S. Department of Education include a veteran of Capitol Hill and Beltway education groups, the former leader of Democrats for Education Reform’s District of Columbia affiliate, and two former Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation staffers

Jessica Cardichon, deputy assistant secretary, office of planning, evaluation, and policy development. Cardichon is an education policy veteran in Washington. She comes to the Education Department from the Learning Policy Institute, a K-12 policy and research group founded and led by Linda Darling-Hammond, who led Biden’s transition team for the department. Cardichon was the group’s federal policy director. While at LPI, Cardichon contributed to reports about COVID-19 relief, how to “reimagine schooling,” and student access to certified teachers. 

She’s also worked as education counsel to Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on the Senate education committee; the Alliance for Excellent Education, a research and advocacy group, and at Teachers College, Columbia University. A long-time ally of teachers’ unions and a critic of standardized testing, Sanders has taken on a big role in the Senate during the creation of a new COVID-19 relief package.

I was invited to serve on the federal policy transition team, which Cardichon chaired. The members were asked to offer recommendations for Biden for Day 1, Day 100, and One Year. I proposed that Biden announce two changes: 1) a halt in the annual mandated standardized testing; 2) a revision of the Every Student Succeeds Act to make the ban on federally mandated annual testing of every child permanent; 3) a halt in the funding of the federal Charter Schools Program, which spends $440 million every year to fund charters, almost 40% of which either never open or close soon after opening. Cardichon offered no support for any of these proposals. They were never discussed by the committee. After being stonewalled repeatedly, I resigned from the committee. Not surprisingly, none of those three recommendations has been on the Biden agenda.

Ramin Taheri, chief of staff, office for civil rights. Taheri comes to the department after serving as the District of Columbia chapter director of Democrats for Education Reform, a group that promotes charter schools, K-12 education funding, test-based teacher and school accountability, and other policies. The group divides opinion in the left-leaning K-12 policy space. Some have championed the group for focusing on issues they say will better served students of color and disadvantaged learners, while other claim DFER undermines teachers’ unions and traditional public schools. News that DFER was backing certain big-city superintendents to be Biden’s education secretary provoked pushback from union supporters and others skeptical of DFER. (Cardona was not on DFER’s list of preferred choices.) Taheri has also worked at Chiefs for Change, a group of district superintendents that provokes similar, if not identical, political sentiments.

Ujifusa does not explain that DFER was created by hedge-funders who are passionate about charter schools, high-stakes teacher evaluations, merit pay, and union-busting. Nor does he mention that Chiefs for Change is a rightwing group founded by Jeb Bush to promote the Florida “model” of privatization and high-stakes testing. The agenda of DFER and Chiefs for Change is not centrist; it is rightwing.

Nick Lee, deputy assistant secretary, office of planning, evaluation, and policy development; Sara Garcia, special assistant, office of planning, evaluation, and policy development. Both Lee and Garcia come to the department from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where Lee was a senior program officer and Garcia was a program officer....

The Gates Foundation has had a long, complex, and controversial involvement in education policy. For many years, it focused its considerable grant-making power on teacher effectiveness, teacher-performance systems, and support for the Common Core State Standards; by 2015, the foundation estimated it had put $900 million in grants toward teacher policy and programs. Previously, it had focused on supporting small high schools. These efforts became more politically controversial over time. 

Supporters have applauded its focus on educators and improving instruction, while critics say its outsized influence has had a detrimental effect on policymakers. A 2018 study of one of its biggest teacher-effectiveness efforts in three districts showed no gains for students.

A few years back, a reporter at Education Week wrote an article about the outsized role of the Gates Foundation in shaping federal education policy; the reporter said it was almost impossible to find anyone to criticize the foundation’s role because almost every organization in D.C. was funded by Gates.

Chicago was the starting place for Arne Duncan’s very bad ideas about school reform. Duncan boasted about how many schools he closed, working on the theory that the students would transfer to a better school or a charter school. As Eve Ewing documented in her book, Ghosts in the Schoolyard, Duncan’s punitive approach wreaked havoc on black and LatinX students, communities, and of course, neighborhood schools. Arne Duncan, the President who appointed him (Obama), and the mayor who followed his failing model (Rahm Emanuel), pushed policies that hurt children and educators. The mainstream media has not yet held them accountable. Perhaps this settlement will. Meanwhile, the thousands of African American teachers who were fired in New Orleans lost their court battle and will never receive either compensation or acknowledgement of the injustice done to them.

Chicago Teachers Union

STATEMENT: 
For Immediate Release| ctulocal1.org

CONTACT: Chris Geovanis, 312-329-6250312-446-4939 (m)ChrisGeovanis@ctulocal1.org

Mayor’s Board of Ed to vote on compensating Black educators harmed by racially disparate ‘turn-arounds’

CHICAGO, Dec. 13, 2021 — The Chicago Teachers Union issued the following statement today in wake of CPS’ statement on the Board of Education’s upcoming consideration this Wednesday of a settlement agreement related to the racially disproportionate layoffs and terminations of Black teachers and paraprofessionals in ‘turned-around’ schools in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

The Chicago Teachers Union aims to defend public education in the City of Chicago for staff and students—including for the vast majority of Black and LatinX people in the city. 

On Wednesday, the Chicago Board of Education will vote on a settlement between the Chicago Teachers Union, Local 1, and CPS relating to layoffs and terminations from their positions that had a disparate racial impact on African American teachers and paraprofessionals resulting from the Board’s turnaround policies and in certain CPS schools in 2012, 2013, and 2014.

The agreement concludes nearly 10 years of litigation and will result in the creation and distribution of a settlement fund to benefit those staff members affected by the turnarounds. Resolving this matter is in CPS students’ best interest and will allow the District to move forward while the impacted teachers and staff will receive some compensation for the harm that was done to them. As a union, we have fought for increased funding for schools, adequate staffing and fair treatment of all teachers, regardless of race.

The cases settled are Chicago Teachers Union et al. v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago (Case Nos. 12-cv-10311 and 15-cv-8149), both pending in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The CTU will issue further statements once the final terms of the settlement are documented and submitted to the court for approval.”

###

The Chicago Teachers Union represents more than 25,000 teachers and educational support personnel working in schools funded by City of Chicago School District 299, and by extension, over 350,000 students and families they serve. The CTU is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Federation of Teachers and is the third-largest teachers local in the United States. For more information, please visit the CTU website at www.ctulocal1.org.Sent via ActionNetwork.org. To update your email address, change your name or address, or to stop receiving emails from CTU Press, please click here.

As readers are well aware, the federal law called the Every Student Succeeds Act continued the mandated annual testing of students in grades 3-8 in reading and math (as well as one high school test) that was the heart of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law, enacted in 2002. The Secretary of Education is allowed to grant waivers to states that ask not to give the tests. Last year, as the pandemic closed most schools, Secretary Betsy DeVos offered a blanket waiver to all states. She vowed not to do it again.

During the campaign of 2020, candidate Joe Biden publicly and unequivocally pledged to abandon the tests. He seemed to understand that they were not producing useful information and were squeezing out valuable instruction and subjects that are not tested.

Education Trust, led by John King, who was Obama’s Secretary of Education in his last year in office, created a campaign to demand that the Biden administration refuse all waiver requests and demand that everyone be tested, despite the pandemic. Education Trust, and most of the organizations that signed its two letters, are heavily funded by the Gates and Walton foundations.

The decision not to allow waivers, bowing to the EdTrust campaign, was announced by Ian Rosenblum, a low-level political appointee who previously worked for Education Trust New York and was an advocate for high-stakes testing. His boss was John King, who sent the pro-testing letters. The decision was made before Secretary Cardinal was confirmed. My guess is that the decision was made by Carmel Martin, who was an influential testing advocate in the Obama administration, then worked for the neoliberal Center for American Progress. She now works in the Biden White House as a member of the Domestic Policy Council. If I am wrong, I hope she corrects me.

Laura Chapman reviews the chronology here.

Thank you for all who helped to produce this rapid response and effective use of only two of the many databases for tracking the role of money in shaping policy.

I think it may be useful to put a timeline around some these flows of money and federal policies.

MAY 2020. Guidance for ESEA section 8401(b)(3)(A) testing waivers were published in May 2020 and almost every state or comparable jurisdiction requested and received these waivers for the 2019-2020 school year, well before the full force of the pandemic required large scale changes in schools. https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/05/19/2020-10740/notice-of-waivers-granted-under-section-8401-of-the-elementary-and-secondary-education-act-of-1965.

FEBRUARY 3, 2021. The Education Trust sent a letter to Dr. Miguel Cardona. This was after his nomination but before his confirmation on March 1. This letter was signed by 18 organizations in addition to the Education Trust. Find the letter here. https://edtrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Joint-Letter-to-Dr.-Miguel-Cardona-Urging-Rejection-of-Waivers-to-Annual-State-Wide-Assessment-Requirements-for-the-2020-21-School-Year-February-3-2021.pdf

The February 3 letter ends with two footnotes. The first is for McKinsey & Co.’s data about achievement before schools closed and the transition to remote learning began. This analysis includes “epidemiological scenarios” for learning loss (in months) for students who are white, black, and Hispanic. As usual, Mc Kinsey & Co. cares about the economic value of test scores “We estimate that the average K–12 student in the United States could lose $61,000 to $82,000 in lifetime earnings (in constant 2020 dollars), or the equivalent of a year of full-time work, solely as a result of COVID-19–related learning losses…. This translates into an estimated impact of $110 billion annual earnings across the entire current K–12 cohort.” https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/public-and-social-sector/our-insights/covid-19-and-student-learning-in-the-united-states-the-hurt-could-last-a-lifetime

The second footnote refers to a Bellwether Education report justifying their use of “crisis” rhetoric about school attendance data. The report estimates that about three million school-age children had difficulty engaging in or accessing education in the spring and fall 2020. That estimate was based on data from multiple sources, including media reports.

I hope Dr. Cordona understands that McKinsey & Co and Bellwether Education are not great sources of trustworthy information about public schools. https://bellwethereducation.org/publication/missing-margins-estimating-scale-covid-19-attendance-crisis.

FEBRUARY 22. On this date Ian Rosenblum, “Delegated the Authority to Perform the Functions and Duties of the Assistant Secretary of Elementary Education” announced “guidance for state testing” with particular attention to the conditions required if waivers of any find were requested. Note that Dr, Cardona has not yet been confirmed as Secretary of Education. I have yet to discover how he was granted authority (or grabbed it) to assert national policy on testing for the 2020-2021 school year. It is worth noting that Rosenblum’s prior employer had been The Education Trust, (New York). Here is the Guidance letter.https://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/guid/stateletters/dcl-assessments-and-acct-022221.pdf

FEBRUARY 23. In no time flat, The Education Trust sent this second letter to the U.S. Department of Education, titled “Response From Civil Rights, Social Justice, Disability Rights, Immigration Policy, Business, and Education Organizations to the U.S. Department of Education’s Updated Guidance on Key ESSA Provisions in 2020–21.” This letter was signed by 30 organizations in addition to the Education Trust. This letter emphasized that local assessments were not suitable for accountability:

”We want to be clear: The Department must not, as part of its promised state-by-state “flexibility,” grant waivers to states that would allow them to substitute local assessments in place of statewide assessments or to only assess a subset of students. By design, these local assessments do not hold all students to the same standards and expectations. They do not offer appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities or English learners, as required under federal law for statewide assessments; they are not peer reviewed to ensure quality and prevent bias; and the results of these assessments will not be comparable from district to district.”

In effect, the only accountability measures that matter to The Education Trust and those who signed on to these letters are features of a factory model of education. Standardization is the ultimate criterion for data entering into decisions about federal policy. This factory model is also positioned as if the primary way to address equity and civils rights. We must “hold all students to the same standards and expectations.”

The February 23 letter also articulates a clear distain for assessments most likely to be meaningful to teachers, students, and parent caregivers; namely teacher and district developed evaluations of learning with these judgements student-specific, curriculum relevant, informed by face-to=face conversations and providing a meaningful pathway for guiding students.


Jeff Bryant wrote in the LA Progressive about President Biden’s “golden opportunity” to strengthen public education by throwing out two decades of failed “reforms.”

As we now know (and Jeff did not when he wrote the article), Biden got off on the wrong foot by mandating another round of standardized testing this spring. This unwise decision was foretold when the news came out that the Biden administration had hired Ian Rosenblum as Deputy Assistant Secretary in a key part of the Department of Education, where policy and strategy are forged. Rosenblum was never a teacher. He previously worked for the pro-testing Education Trust New York, where John King was his mentor. When King was Commissioner of Education in New York, his heavy-handed advocacy for Common Core and high-stakes testing created the parent-led Opt Out movement.

The Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona has not yet been confirmed; he is not anti-testing, but might he have been more thoughtful about mandating a renewal of testing in the midst of a global pandemic? Deputy Secretary Cindy Marten has not yet been confirmed; she knows that testing is an after-effect, not a cause of sensible education policies. But neither of them was in place. Was Rosenblum left on his own to impose a national mandate? I suspect that President Biden never heard of Ian Rosenblum, yet this young man has made millions of parents and teachers angry with his insensitive, heavy-handed announcement.

Yes, President Biden has a “golden opportunity” to rebuild and strengthen public education. But not by relying on people molded by the twenty years of failed “reforms” of the Bush-Obama-Trump years.

As Bryant points out, the schools need a new vision for education, not a stale, warmed-over dose of testing, accountability, and privatization. No, we do not need another dose of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and Every Student Succeeds–all of which failed. It’s time to break free of the status quo. It’s time for fresh thinking. Filling up the U.S. Department of Education with retreads from the Obama years–and their progeny–will send us backwards, not forwards. Now is a time for sensitivity, not stupidity.

Thirty-one years ago, I was invited by Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander to join him at the U.S. Department of Education as Assistant Secretary of Education in Charge of Research and Improvement. Before he invited me, he learned a lot about my work and my views. It was a big jump for me because I had never planned to work in government and was surprised to be invited. After I was confirmed by the Senate, I selected the person I wanted as my Deputy Assistant Secretary of Education. It was Francie Alexander, who had been Deputy Superintendent of Curriculum and Assessment in the State of California. I had gotten to know her when I worked on the California history-social science framework in the late 1980s.

Given this brief personal history, I am puzzled that the Biden administration is staffing up the key jobs in the U.S. Department of Education before any of the top officials (Secretary of Education, Deputy Secretary of Education, Undersecretary of Education) have been confirmed. The next layer of officials–the Assistant Secretaries–have not even been named.

Yet the administration continues to roll out lists of people who will be deputies to Assistant Secretaries who are as yet unknown; “chief of staff” to an official who has not been confirmed; “confidential assistant” to a high official. Most of these appointments have one of two things in common: 1) they worked on the Biden-Harris campaign; or 2) they worked in the Obama administration.

It is likely, highly likely, that Secretary-designate Miguel Cardona and his Deputy Secretary-designate Cindy Marten have never met or even heard of any of these people who will be their closest associates. They will not pick their team; when they take office, their team will be in place, chosen by someone else. Who? Arne Duncan? John King?

The important job of Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy and Programs in the Office of the Secretary went to Scott Sargrad, who was until recently vice-president for K-12 education at the Center for American Progress. CAP, as is well known, is pro-testing and pro-charter schools.

Will the Biden administration revive Race to the Top but call it something else?

Asking for a few million friends.

Nancy Bailey explains why we should worry about who is making the decisions at the U.S. Department of Education before any of its top officials have been confirmed. She suspects it is Education Trust, which favors charter schools and high-stakes testing. EdTrust is Gates-funded, and its leader is John King, who served briefly as Secretary of Education in the last year of the Obama administration. King was Commissioner of Education in New York, where he was an enthusiastic proponent of the Common Core and high-stakes testing. His background is charter schools; he founded Roxbury Prep, a no-excuses charter school in Massachusetts with the highest suspension rate in the state.

EdTrust pushed hard to persuade Biden not to issue any testing waivers this year. The Department’s announcement was made by Ian Rosenblum, acting Assistant Secretary, who previously worked for…wait for it…EdTrust in New York, advocating for testing.

I reviewed A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door in The New Republic. It is an important book that pulls together all the threads of the privatization movement and shows that their agenda is not to improve education or to advance equity but to destroy public education. The review is here.

Tonight, I will join the authors at a town hall Zoom meeting in Seattle at 9 p.m. EST, 6 p.m. PST. Please join us!

It begins like this:

Two years ago, Margaret Spellings, George W. Bush’s secretary of education, and Arne Duncan, Barack Obama’s secretary of education, wrote an opinion article in The Washington Post lamenting the decline of public support for the bipartisan consensus about education policy that began under Ronald Reagan. Elected officials strongly supported a regime of testing, accountability, and school choice, they wrote, but public enthusiasm was waning due to a lack of “courage” and “political will.”

A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door: The Dismantling of Public Education and the Future of Schoolby Jack Schneider and Jennifer BerkshireBuy on BookshopThe New Press, 256 pp., $26.99

They were right. Elected officials, educators, and parents were rapidly losing faith in the bipartisan consensus. For a decade, it had failed to produce any improvement on national tests. Parents were opting their children out of the annual testing mandated by federal law; in New York, 20 percent of eligible students refused to take them. Teachers went to court to fight the test-based evaluation methods imposed by Duncan’s Race to the Top. Communities from Los Angeles to Philadelphia were complaining about the growth of charter schools, which diverted funds away from public schools. A year after Spellings and Duncan’s essay appeared, teachers across the nation, from West Virginia to California, went on strike to protest low wages, low funding, and large class sizes, issues that were ignored during the era of bipartisan consensus.

What went wrong? Why did the bipartisan consensus that Spellings and Duncan praised fall apart? In their new book, historian Jack Schneider and journalist Jennifer Berkshire provide a valuable guide to the history and the politics of the rise and fall of the bipartisan consensus. Theirs is indeed a cautionary tale, because they show how Republicans and Democrats joined to support failed policies whose ultimate goal was to eliminate public education and replace it with a free-market approach to schooling. Betsy DeVos was publicly reviled for her contemptuous attitudes toward public schools, but she was not an exception to the bipartisan consensus: She was its ultimate embodiment. She was the personification of the wolf at the schoolhouse door. 

Schneider and Berkshire write that they began the book to answer “a puzzling question: Why had conservative policy ideas, hatched decades ago and once languishing due to a lack of public and political support, suddenly roared back to life in the last five or so years?” Their prime example was private school vouchers, an idea first promoted by Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s and rejected at that time by Congress. Private school vouchers were not the only policy prescription that was recycled from the ashcan of failed ideas. There was also “market-based school choice, for-profit schools, virtual schools,” and deregulation. These ideas were repackaged as innovative while their history and their conservative ideological origins were obscured. True believers, intent on eliminating public schools, built donor networks, cultivated political alliances, and churned out ready-made legislation. A key element in this network-building was the enlistment of billionaires who were enamored of free-market solutions and who opened their wallets to persuade national and state elected officials to inject competition and private-sector solutions into the public education system. 

This is a book you will want to read. Give it to your local school board members and your legislators.

Steve Hinnefeld, an Indiana blogger, reviews Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire’s new book A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door and finds that it resonates with his own experience in Indiana.

He writes:

“A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door” focuses on a fundamental debate on the nature of schools. Education, the authors argue, is best treated as a public good that belongs to everyone.

“Like clean air, a well-educated populace is something with wide-reaching benefits,” Berkshire and Schneider write. “That’s why we treat public education more like a park than a country club. We tax ourselves to pay for it, and we open it to everyone.”

The alternative: education as a private good that benefits and belongs to those who consume it. In that increasingly influential view, families should choose schools – or other education products and services — the same way they choose restaurants or where to buy their shoes, with little concern for anyone else.

The threats they describe are not a wolf but a veritable wolfpack: conservative ideologues who want to reduce taxes and shrink government, anti-union zealots, marketers bent on “selling” schools, self-dealers making money from ineffective virtual-school schemes and technology enthusiasts who envision a future in which algorithms replace teachers.

That may make the book sound like a polemic; it’s not, at least in my reading. The authors offer a fair and accurate reading of opposing views and acknowledge that public schools aren’t perfect. All too often, they admit, public schools have excluded or failed students of color, immigrants, religious minorities, students with disabilities and others…

I remember, in the late 1990s, being surprised when the Indiana Chamber of Commerce said it planned to push for vouchers. Democrats controlled the governor’s office and the Indiana House. Just a few years earlier, a well-organized voucher push led by prominent business officials fizzled out.

But, as Schneider and Berkshire document, voucher supporters have played a long game, carried forward by groups like Indianapolis-based EdChoice and the American Legislative Exchange Council. In 2011, with a GOP supermajority in the legislature and Mitch Daniels in the governor’s office, Indiana approved vouchers. The program started small but grew to include over 300 private schools, nearly all of them religious, and over 36,000 students. Now there’s talk of expanding it further – or possibly of adopting education savings accounts, one of the “neo-voucher” programs that Schneider and Berkshire describe.

There is reason to hope, he writes, but also reason to be alarmed and vigilant.