Archives for category: Oklahoma

Peter Greene learned that the Tulsa public schools have adopted a program to standardize teaching by putting a little microphone in teachers’ ears through which they can get real-time coaching. The superintendent in Tulsa is Deborah Gist, a reformer who was previously State Commisssioner of Education in Rhode Island, where she achieved plaudits from President Obama and Arne Duncan for supporting the mass firing of the entire staff of Central Falls High School.

Tulsa public schools invited the press to see a demonstration of scripted teaching.

“The press were there to watch Remote Control Scripting in action because they had been invited there by Tulsa Public Schools and the company TPS hired to provide this program. It’s the same company that put Berard through her paces– CT3 (The Center for Transformative Teacher Training). They are partners with all the cool kids– Success Academies, Teach for America, Aspire, and many other charter schools….

“No Nonsense Nurturing has been around forever, but previously we’ve called it “tough love” or “taking a hard line” or even “acting like an emotionally-withholding, borderline-abusive jerk.” I have never seen nor read of an example of it that doesn’t make me immediately think “this is no way to treat human beings.”

“Real-Time Coaching, the part that got all the press attention in Tulsa, is actually Real-Time Scripting, and like scripting, it has no place in a classroom. Ever. No child should ever, ever have a teacher whose answer to, “Why are we doing this?” is “Because the voices in my head tell me to.”

“The real time nature of the coaching is actually a bug, not a feature. If I’m coaching another teacher, after I’ve watched the lesson, I’ll need at least a few minutes to reflect. In the real time moment, I’m pretty much limited to the instant thought of What I Would Do, or, if I’ve been trained in a particular method, the One Correct Response to that situation. Either response devalues and dismisses that teacher’s own teaching voice.

“It’s just silly to say that there is One Correct Way to teach a particular lesson, irregardless of the teacher or the class involved. It makes no more sense than saying there is One Correct Way to be a spouse, irregardless of who is your partner.

Borrero defends CT3 practices by saying, “Our programs were developed through careful analysis of high performing teachers’ practices in schools serving traditionally disenfranchised communities across the country; all of our work is rooted in building positive life-altering relationships with youth and their families.” But it is hard for me to imagine how Real Time Coaching could possibly help accomplish any such thing.

“Standardizing and human behavior is the worst kind of folly. To fit in such a system requires the practitioners to be less themselves, less real, less human. It is a favored dream of people who are too small to comprehend the vast variety of human experience and behavior, too scared to face anything but the narrow sliver of possibilities they feel prepared to master, or too morally impaired to respect the independence and autonomy of other human beings.

“Good teaching exists at the intersection of the material, the humanity of the teacher, and the humanity of the students in the room. Additionally, that intersection is influenced by a background of previous experience, current events, and the feelings of the moment. It cannot be standardized any more than a marriage or a child or a pancake or a planet can be standardized. And it can’t be attempted because it shouldn’t be attempted.

“I have no doubt that buried here in there in the real-time scripting and the no-nurturing nonsense, there are occasional nuggets of useful information or technique. But it is saddening to see CT3 still successfully peddling their wares. Nobody needs to teach like a robot.”

This program is a vivid demonstration of lack of respect for teachers. It strips them of both their professionalism and their dignity.

John Thompson, teacher and historian in Oklahoma, writes here about the resurgence of segregation in America’s schools.

He writes:

Are we heading into another resegregation era? A half century ago, at least in terms of urban education, “White Flight” gave Jim Crow a new lease on life. Then, Reaganomics subsidized more “suburban flight” as “Supply Side Economics” provided subsidies for moving good-paying jobs from cities to the exurbs. This further stimulated the “Big Sort,” or resegregation based on personal preferences. Segregation by choice, this time accompanied by gentrification and competition-driven corporate school reform, fired a second shotgun blast at inner city schools; this occurred as the Rightwing accelerated the destruction of our industrial base, and they were followed by New Democrats seeking to “end of welfare as we know it.”

Research by Cornell’s Kendra Bischoff, Stanford’s Sean Reardon, Ann Owens of the University of Southern California, and others raise the specter of a third wave of resegregation. Bischoff and Reardon recall that income segregation increased by 4.5% per decade since 1970. It has accelerated greatly since 2007. By 2012, more than 1/3rd of families in large metropolitan areas lived “in neighborhoods of concentrated affluence or concentrated poverty,” as “middle-class neighborhoods have become less common.” Moreover, Bischoff further explains why this segregation is so damaging to schools, “Local environments are important for children’s early and adolescent development, so the more polarized communities become, the more unequal the opportunities available to high- and low-income children.”

Reardon and Ann Owens add nuance to the sorry tale that we’ve always known – how flight from desegregated urban schools played a huge part in dividing modern America against itself. In doing so, it severely damaged our social and physical environments and our physical as well as moral health. Owens finds “that neighborhoods in the 100 largest cities became steadily more isolated by income between 1990 and 2010–but the segregation was driven by families with school-age children.”

She explains:

Whenever we talk about neighborhood and school segregation, they really go hand-in-hand. … There’s really a feedback loop, and it’s often framed as, we can never have integrated schools while we have segregated neighborhoods, but the flip side is true, as well. As long as schools are unequal and linked to neighborhoods, that’s going to play a big role in neighborhood segregation.

Reardon uses a massive Stanford database to analyze “16 different facets of racial segregation: school and residential isolation, segregation within and between districts, racial or socioeconomic isolation, and differences in how likely students are to be exposed to students of particular races or socioeconomic groups.” He shows how the racial achievement gap is not just a legacy of discrimination, personal racism, and poverty. Reardon explains:
Even after you control for kids’ family backgrounds, it’s quite clear in the data. … it’s something about school quality–not only about racial segregation, but about the fact that racial segregation in America almost inevitably leads to these kind of disparities in [students’] exposure to poverty and differences in the kinds of resources that schools have.

My Oklahoma City provides a clear illustration of the patterns these scholars document – of the devastation produced by Jim Crow, the Big Sort, and the devotion to personal choice, as well as our failure to face the moral facts of segregated life. The metropolitan area spreads over 621 square miles. The sprawl created a culture dominated by the automobile, and the resulting social and health care costs. Once a sturdy, frontier culture characterized by neighborliness, Oklahoma City became increasingly obese, isolated and susceptible to the politics of fear. Faced with desegregation orders, the Oklahoma City Public School System (OKCPS) immediately lost nearly half of its 75,000+ students. Now, the OKCPS is an underfunded, 86% low-income district which competes with 26 other school systems.

As Steve Lackmeyer’s Daily Oklahoman in-depth analysis, “Unsustainable,” explains, “After decades of sprawl, Oklahoma City officials know something must change.” Lackmeyer describes the way that previous forms of school choice drove the most destructive patterns of mindless geographical expansion. Developers would overbuild apartments on the edges of the city limits, outside the OKCPS boundaries. Then, to paraphrase one businessman, apartment growth “on the fringe” prompted expansion “beyond the fringe.” These complexes then deteriorated into violent and chaotic eyesores, undermining the quality of life in the areas that became inner-ring suburbs. This nudged the affluent further out into exurbs and school systems serving concentrations of children from extreme privilege.

It’s no surprise that developers overbuild apartments in those areas. Parents make the safest decisions for their own children, as opposed to what would be a best for society as a whole. Sean Readon’s database shows that the average OKCPS student’s test scores are about 2-2/3rds years behind the average student in Edmond, the rich suburb just to the north. However, these outcomes are explained by the deficits children bring to the school, not the quality of classroom instruction. Adjusting for socio-economic factors, student performance increases at very similar rates in the OKCPS and Edmond. (Both are below the national mean, however.)

It’s great that business and political leaders now understand that Oklahoma City must control suburban sprawl as it creates an even more vibrant downtown. But, we should not repeat the sins of the past and promote this third wave of segregation in the central city. There is no reason to believe that charter schools could provide a better education for the children of the Millennials who are moving into the central city. But, today’s developers, who criticize their predecessors for promoting destructive suburban sprawl, often embrace charters in the belief that they are a better “brand.” The worst example of this short-sightedness is the once-secret plan to create up to ten new charters, including a ring around downtown. Its advocates claim to believe that they could find high-performing charters that would not push out harder-to-educate children.

Of course, the new charters designed for upwardly-mobile professional families would not be “No Excuses,” teach-to-the-test schools. A new charter conversion law would allow a long list of institutions to sponsor selective and niche schools – even without the consent of teachers and patrons. The goal would be a “Portfolio” model like New Orleans. The reward and punish behaviorism of KIPP would be subsidized by turning the nicest buildings serving 100% low-income, predominantly black students over to that charter. The poorest children of color, special education students and English Language Learners, and survivors of extreme trauma, would be rejected from both the new charters designed for privileged families and the higher-poverty No Excuses schools. They would not be welcome in affluent charters. And, those that would be unwilling or unable to put up with the endless hours of nonstop teach-to-the-test at KIPP and other higher-poverty charters would be pushed out of the buildings that once housed their neighborhood schools.

In other words, Oklahoma City is just one example of today’s corporate reformers selectively learning the lessons of history. Segregation is awful for children and other living things. Integration is crucial to success in the 21st century, and urban revitalization is necessary to recruit the children of the suburbs and exurbs back into the city center. But, business leaders remain oblivious to the damage done to poor children by segregating them into charter schools.

There is a serious danger that the federal government, and top-down reformers who used the stress of high stakes testing to overcome the stress of the poverty which undermines student performance, will refuse to heed the lessons of history. Families with choices were bound to flee the bubble-in malpractice which corporate school reformers incentivized, prompting more separation. The market-driven reformers also used the stress of competition between charters and neighborhood schools, and the segregation which inevitably resulted, to supposedly reverse the legacy of Jim Crow. It will be even worse, however, as the failure of test-driven, competition-driven reform becomes apparent to corporate reformers, if they continue to respond by doubling down on charter schools and ignoring the ways that they contribute to resegegration.

You may remember Deborah Gist, who was previously Superintendent of Schools in Rhode Island, where she approved the mass firing of all the staff at Central Falls High School and became a hero of the corporate reform movement. TIME magazine named her one of the most important people of 2010 for her “courage” in firing so many educators at once.

Gist is now superintendent of schools in Tulsa and a member of Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change. She recently announced a massive reorganization that involved firings, pay raises, pay cuts, but no pay raises for teachers.

Needless to say, teachers were not happy.

[Gist] said the district eliminated 175 jobs and created 73 new ones – some at higher, some at lower salaries – but, overall, the change, she said, will shift almost $4 million back into schools.

But the head of the teachers union, Patti Ferguson Palmer, complains about the priorities of the spending.

“The teachers are going to have extra students in their classrooms. We, of all people, get that people deserve more money when they take on more responsibility…When so many of these people were already making six figures, and they’re getting a raise…to someone making $32,000, $33,000, and their kids are on food stamps, it makes it look like they’re not appreciated,” she said.

The swing in salaries was, in some cases, more than $20,000 up and down.

Gist said no amount of saving on the administrative side would significantly change teachers’ salaries, but the changes made so far would make a dent in savings.

“In all these cases, it’s resulting many millions of dollars in savings for Tulsa Public Schools,” she said.

NPR reported on a new, smart wave of activism in Oklahoma: 40 teachers are running for office this year. They are running because they want to increase funding for the public schools. Most are Democrats, but some are Republicans and Independents. One of the candidates is Oklahoma’s Teacher of the Year for 2016.

This is great news! The best way to change the legislature is to run for a seat at the table.

Getting elected to the State Senate or Assembly (or whatever it is called in your state) is far more powerful than posting a petition on or holding a rally to get the attention of the legislators.

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, and change the face of the legislature.

Go, Oklahoma teachers!

John Thompson, teacher and historian, writes here about KIPP in Oklahoma City. Will Oklahoma City surrender its public school to corporate charter chains?

Thompson writes:

A deeply emotional battle has erupted in Oklahoma City after its KIPP Reach Middle School attempted to take over the Martin Luther King Elementary School building, while promising to serve the entire neighborhood. OKC’s KIPP has no experience with pre-school through 4th grade instruction, but it promised to send its school leaders to Success Academy for guidance!?!? The charter not only has a much lower percentage of low-income students than OKC’s neighborhood middle schools, (76% vs 90+%) but it serves about 40% as many special education students as MLK. It co-locates with Moon Elementary where 21% of the students are homeless, and it would take over MLK where 17.2% are homeless. Only 1% of KIPP’s students are homeless.

After 15 years, KIPP has not been able to expand its student population beyond 300, but it now wants to quadruple its student body to 1200. It cites its 2012 Blue Ribbon School award as evidence that the No Excuses middle school could become a neighborhood pre-k to 8th grade school without pushing out excessive numbers of high-challenge students. Ironically, KIPP’s Blue Ribbon School application offers an overwhelming case against their attempt to take over an entire feed group.

2014-2015 STATISTICAL PROFILE 1-28-16 (2).pdf

In August, 2010, 285 students enrolled in KIPP. In October, 81% of its students were low-income, and 11.6% were on special education IEPs. By the spring, however, only 226 remained to be tested, which represented the loss of 1/5th of the students. Ten students, or 10% of the tested students, were alternatively assessed, meaning that they were on special education IEPs. So, at first glance, KIPP’s claim to accept the “same” students would seem to be an exaggeration, but it could not be seen as irrational. But, what did the other grades look like?

By 8th grade in 2011, however only 32 students were tested, and only 22 of them were eligible for free and reduced lunch! Only three special education students remained to be tested. And this was not an unusual year. The Blue Ribbon application provides data for 2006 through 2011, and it reveals a clear pattern. During those years, on average of nine 5th graders were on IEPs. By 8th grade the average number of tested IEP students was 1.4%! From FY2007 to FY2011, KIPP did not report a single 7th or 8th grade student on an IEP who passed an end-of-the-year math or reading test.

The next year, however, this attrition story got even worse. Using data from the Office of Civil Rights on FY 2011-2012, the Center for Civil Rights Remedies’ “Charter Schools, Civil Rights, and School Discipline” listed OKC’s KIPP as the charter school with the nation’s 3rd highest percentage of black suspensions. KIPP now claims that it made a reporting error, and that it actually suspended 45%, not 71% of its black students. However, KIPP has not questioned the OCR’s report that 100% of KIPP’s special education students were suspended that year (for a 126% suspension rate), as six of that small cohort was expelled; half of the students who were arrested were on IEPs.

Charter Schools, Civil Rights and School Discipline: A Comprehensive Review — The Civil Rights Project at UCLA

By the way, there is an interesting epilogue to those two years. In 2012, KIPP’s normative attrition rate of 15% to 18% rose to 26%. Given the secrecy of KIPP’s effort to expand dramatically and to participate in a mass charterization campaign in Oklahoma City, the chronology is confusing, but at some point KIPP set a goal of reducing its black suspension rate to 25%. So, it doesn’t seem to be a coincidence that KIPP changed from a school which typically had a low-income rate exceeding 80%, which reported that 9% to 13% of incoming students were on IEPs, to one that starts the year as a 70% to 77% low-income school where as few as 5.6% of students are on IEPs. I guess that KIPP decided that if it couldn’t be so free to push out higher-challenge students that it should avoid enrolling them at the beginning.

The Oklahoma legislature passed a law eliminating student test scores as part of teacher evaluation. Hawaii did the same last week. Bit by bit, the most ill-advised, costly, and demoralizing part of Race to the Top is being rejected by the states. It has no research base. Researchers find that measuring teachers by their student scores is unreliable, unstable, and varies by the composition of the class. Its biggest contribution to American education has been to drive out good teachers and create s teacher shortage.


House leaders unanimously passed a bill Wednesday that eliminates the requirement to use student academic growth in Oklahoma’s teacher evaluation system.


House Bill 2957, which is estimated to save Oklahoma school districts millions of dollars and the Oklahoma State Department of Education more than $500,000, has been sent to the governor’s desk for signature.


“Amid this difficult budget year when public education has faced a variety of challenges, House Bill 2957 is a true bright spot of this year’s legislative session,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister said. “By giving districts the option of removing the quantitative portion of teacher evaluations, we not only increase local control but lift outcomes by supporting our teachers while strengthening their professional development and growth in the classroom.”


Also praising the bill for its return to local decision-making was Rep. Michael Rogers,R-Broken Arrow, HB 2957’s House author.


“This legislation will return flexibility back to the districts on their evaluations while developing an individualized professional development program that will help all of our teachers and administrators,” he said.


HB 2957 removes the controversial and mandated Value-Added Measures – which tie a teacher’s performance rating to student test scores — from OSDE’s Teacher and Leader Effectiveness evaluation system and effectively eliminates the requirement that evaluation scores be used to terminate teachers. These quantitative evaluation tools will become optional for districts upon the governor’s signature.


Sen. John Ford, R-Bartlesville, who co-authored the bill, said the legislation has been long overdue.


“After gathering input from a variety of stakeholders through a lengthy and thoughtful review process, we feel that HB 2957 promotes increased reflection and professional growth for teachers and leaders,” Ford said. “Now is the time to support the teachers in Oklahoma’s public education system by focusing on an evaluation system that places professional development first.”


Farewell and good riddance!



– See more at:



John Thompson, historian and teacher, lives and writes in Oklahoma, where he has a first-hand view of the assault on the public sector.


Most of my professional friends are focused on What’s the Matter with Oklahoma? Our state followed the rightwing playbook described by Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas?, and we face a series of worse case scenarios as the legislature and the governor avoid dealing with the $1.3 billion budget hole that was created by the Kansas playbook.


Being an educator, I worry just as much about the neo-liberal and liberal school reforms that have been imposed from above; these corporate school reformers are taking advantage of the potential catastrophe produced by the rightwing, and are kicking teachers, unions, and public schools while we are down. So, I was commiserating with a veteran progressive about a seemingly arcane quandary about how to communicate with professionals and philanthropists who should be on our side. My friend turned me on to Frank’s new Listen, Liberal or Whatever Happened to the Party of the People?.

I can say enthusiastically that my friend was right about Listen, Liberal. But, I have to say reluctantly that Frank has nailed the reasons why so many neo-liberal Democrats have become some of public education’s worst enemies. I wish it weren’t true, but Frank pulls together the various strands of the story of how so many liberals have abandoned poor students of color, leaving them to the mercies of those who would shrink government to a size where it could be “strangled in the bathtub.”


Tragically, technocrats in the Obama administration, the Gates Foundation, and other “venture philanthropists,” doubled down on the teacher-bashing and union-bashing while coercing states into adopting most or all of the corporate reform agenda.

Franks doesn’t deny that the Republicans, who represent the “One Percent,” are worse. Democrats, however, have abandoned “the People,” as we became the party of the “Ten Percent.” Frank explains how the Democrats have become devoted to elite professionals, and how they have created a “second hierarchy” based on “credentialed expertise.” He borrows the words of David Brooks, the conservative whose initial support of President Obama was described as a “bromance.” Brooks praised Obama for the way he staffed his administration with like-minded professionals and creating a “valedictocracy.” In doing so, Franks explained why it is so hard for educators to get the Ten Percent to listen to why they should stop supporting corporate reformers and edu-philanthropists who are treat our students like lab rats in ill-conceived and risky top-down experiments.

The specific problem which baffled me was the question of why can’t we persuade more philanthropists who support early education and other humane, science-based pedagogies to distance themselves from “brass-knuckled” philanthropists who fund its opposite – the test, sort, reward, and punish school of reform. Perhaps today’s advocates for pre-kindergarten and wraparound services don’t know that neo-liberal, output-driven reformers used to ridicule those policies as “Excuses!” and “Low Expectations.” The idea that poverty, not “bad” teachers, is the enemy has long been derided by those test-driven, competition-driven reformers. Why is it that supporters of early education and/or full-service community schools, which are based on the idea that teaching in the inner city must become a team effort, will often go along with mandates for soul-killing, bubble-in accountability and attacks on unions?

The Obama administration, as well as so many other Democrats seeking a “Third Way,” have convinced themselves that “college can conquer unemployment as well as racism, … urban decay as well as inequality.” Had these professional elites shared on-the-job experiences with working people, or even listened to fellow professionals who study economic history, perhaps they would have subjected their assumptions to an evidence-based cross examination. But, without a basis in fact, they bought the reform spin and the claim, “If we just launch more charter schools, give everyone a fair shot at the SAT, and crank out the student loans” that education “will dissolve our doubts about globalization.” The person who may have drank the biggest dose of their Kool Aid, former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, said it worst, “What I believe – and what the president believes, is that the only way to end poverty is through education.”

Perhaps because I have been such an Obama loyalist, I’ve ducked the hard realities which Frank lays out. “To the liberal class,” he observes, “every big economic problem is really an education problem.” Obama’s education policy may have increased segregation, undermined the teaching profession, broken the morale of many educators, and benefitted rightwing union-haters, as it drove down student performance, but it can’t face up to these facts because, “To the liberal class this is a fixed idea, as open to evidence-based refutation as creationism is to fundamentalists.”

Frank explains why my efforts to reach out to our erstwhile allies (who may still ally themselves with unions and educators on progressive social issues while attacking the teaching profession) haven’t gained traction. The seemingly weird idea that education reform can defeat poverty is “a moral judgment handed down by the successful from the vantage of their own success.” Frank then concludes with a bluntness that I wouldn’t dare express on my own. The Ten Percent’s prescription for better teaching as the cure for poverty is “less a strategy for mitigating inequality than it is a way of rationalizing it.”

Arne Duncan’s and the Obama administration’s reign of education policy error is the culmination of more than a generation of Democratic fidelity to the “learning class.” Under the names of neo-liberalism, futurism, the Democratic Leadership Council, and New Democrats, they have assumed that “wired workers” were destined to dominate the 21st century and both parties had to “compete single-mindedly for their votes.” President Clinton propelled the party down a path which ignores working people and less-respected professionals by assembling an administration with a “tight little group of credentialed professionals who dominated his administration.” It was a political monoculture where “almost everyone agreed” with their technocratic, meritocratic mentality.

Then, the Obama administration put this “professional correctness” on steroids. It forgot that “the vast majority of Americans are unprofessional: they are managed, not managers.” So, “Team Obama joined the fight against teachers unions from day one.” This became nearly inevitable as his administration was staffed by people “whose faith lies in ‘cream rising to the top’ (to repeat [Jonathan] Alter’s take on Obama’s credo)” and “tend to disdain those at the bottom.”

Sadly, Frank doesn’t have concise solutions. He provides little hope that accountability-driven school reformers will hold themselves accountable for either the education debacle they choreographed or for abandoning the overall fight against economic inequality. Frank mostly urges us to speak truth to our party’s power. He also makes a great case that the Democrats rejection of populism is “a failure for both the nation and for their own partisan health.”

Perhaps I’m being naïve, but I also find hope in listening to President Obama who re-found his voice after the 2014 election. And, in the short term, we must support Hillary Clinton, and hope she takes heed of the message delivered by Bernie Sanders and Listen, Liberal.

I love this story.


In Oklahoma, an unusual number of educators have filed to run for elective office to stop budget cuts.


Some got tired of being ignored by their representatives and decided it was time for an educator to run against them. They refuse to meet the needs of schools and children, so educators are stepping forward.


That’s action!

John Thompson, historian and teacher, thought that corporate reform was happening elsewhere, but not in Oklahoma City. But now they have arrived in full force, with all their failed and demoralizing strategies. It is such a good post that I am quoting a lot of it, but not all of it. I urge you to read the whole thing.


He writes:


It wasn’t until I left the fulltime classroom in 2010 that I saw out-of-state corporate reformers, ranging from the Walton Foundation and the Parent Revolution to ALEC, try to bring their competition-driven, edu-politics to Oklahoma City. I saw plenty of examples of Sooner state Reaganism, and the gutting of the social safety net. After all, we expect businessmen to play political hardball, as well as take risks and leverage capital in order to increase their profits. That is why we need the checks and balances of our democratic system to counter the “creative destruction” of capitalism. Some free market experiments will fail, but “its only money.” When schools gamble on market-driven policies, however, the losers are children.



Actually, even the economic game involves more than money, as we in Oklahoma have learned after our state adopted so much of the ALEC agenda of shrinking the size of government. Even as we cut funding by about 1/4th since 2008, national corporate reformers have imposed incredibly expensive and untested policies (such as Common Core testing and test-driven teacher evaluations), while encouraging the creaming of the easiest-to-educate (and the least-expensive-to-educate) students from neighborhood schools and into charter schools.



Before 2010, I only read about national conservative and neo-liberal school reformers who adopted a strategy of “convergence” or “flooding the zone” to drive rapid, “transformational change” in selected districts and schools. I didn’t personally witness the way that they used mass charterization, now called the “portfolio strategy,” to avoid the messiness of constitutional democracy. Freed of local governance, corporate reformers promoted a school culture of risk-taking, and urgent experimentation to produce “disruptive innovation.”



Now, it looks like local edu-philanthropists have joined with the Billionaires Boys Club and they may be ready to pull the plug on the OKCPS. Before embracing the policies pushed by national reformers, Oklahoma City and other urban areas should consider Sarah Reckhow’s and Megan Tompkins-Stange’s “‘Singing from the Same Hymnbook’: Education Policy Advocacy at Gates and Broad.” It begins in the glory days of test-driven, market-driven reform, from 2008 to 2010, when the Broad Foundation proclaimed,



“We feel the stars have finally aligned. With an agenda that echoes our decade of investments—charter schools, performance pay for teachers, accountability, expanded learning time and national standards—the Obama administration is poised to cultivate and bring to fruition the seeds we and other reformers have planted.”

Reckhow and Tompkins-Stange explain how this dramatic change was conducted in the “absence of a robust public debate.” An alphabet soup of think tanks, funded by “venture philanthropists, produced the best public relations campaign that money could buy, and they did so while playing fast and loose with the evidence. As a Gates insider explained:


“It’s within [a] sort of fairly narrow orbit that you manufacture the [research] reports. You hire somebody to write a report. There’s going to be a commission, there’s going to be a lot of research, there’s going to be a lot of vetting and so forth and so on, but you pretty much know what the report is going to say before you go through the exercise.”

It should now be clear that corporate reform failed. The ostensible leader of the campaign, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is gone, as are the highest-profile leaders of transformational reforms in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Newark, Houston, Memphis, Washington D.C. and other districts. The quantitative portions of teacher evaluations are all but dead, and Common Core has replaced NCLB as the most toxic brand in education. After the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) replaced NCLB, and after Hillary Clinton distanced herself from charter schools, it is likely that federal support for this top-down social engineering experiment is history.



The prospect of the eminent demise of test-driven, competition-driven reform seems to have prompted the most fervent reformers in the Broad and Walton Foundations to double down on mass charterization, i.e. the “portfolio” model, in Los Angeles, Oakland, Chicago, Newark, D.C. and, apparently, Oklahoma City. I believe it is also obvious why top-down, corporate reform failed. It came with the sword, dismissing educators as the enemy. The “Billionaires Boys Club” hatched their secret plans without submitting them to the clash of ideas. These non-educators ignored both social science and the hard-earned wisdom of practitioners. The “astroturf” think tank, the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), has gained a foothold in Tulsa and they seem to have the ears of competition-driven reformers in Oklahoma City. The CRPE may best illustrate the way that reformers are doubling down on the edu-politics of destruction, even while they belatedly try to cultivate a kinder, gentler image.



I hope that Thompson is right about the demise of corporate reform. It is so lucrative that I don’t expect the hedge-fund-manager-driven demand for privatization to go away quietly, nor do I expect Broad and Gates to abandon their obsession with privatizing the nation’s public schools. I think that once they realize that the public rejects their malignant beneficence and that their reputation is endangered, and that history may view them as scoundrels for the damage they have inflicted on a democratic institution, then they might desist and pick some other sector to micro-manage.


By the way, it was Paul Hill, founder of the Center for Reinventing Public Education who invented the idea of the portfolio strategy about a dozen years ago. His theory was that the school board should look on their schools as akin to a stock portfolio: get rid of the weak ones, hold on to the top performers. Open and close schools to balance the portfolio. This is already a failed strategy because it ignores the reasons for low academic performance.

John Thompson, historian and teacher in Oklahoma City, read Motoko Rich’s report in the New York Times on the travails of Antwan Wilson, the Broad-trained superintendent in Oakland, California, and thought of the negative reputation that these “Broadies” have acquired. What is a Broadie? It is someone, with or without an education background, who attended a series of weekend seminars sponsored by the Eli Broad Superintendents Academy. This “academy” has no accreditation. It focuses on management style, not education. The Broad Foundation picks people to learn its autocratic management style and places them in a district where Broad has influence and might even supplement the leader’s salary. Once placed, you may surround yourself with other Broadies to push decisions on unwilling teachers and principals who know more than you do about the local schools and students. The list of failed Broadies is long, including Mike Miles in Dallas, General Anthony Tata in Wake County, N.C., John Covington in Kansas City and Michigan’s Educational Achievement Authority.


Thompson was reminded of the Broadie who took charge of the Oklahoma City public schools and sowed racial antagonism and division when he read Rich’s article about Wilson and his problems.


He writes:


It would be easier to sympathize with Wilson’s feelings if Broad and the rest of the Billionaires Boys Club’s public relations teams didn’t have such a long and disgusting record of using racial taunts against those (regardless of our race) who disagree with them. More importantly, the Broadie’s pain is dwarfed by that of poor children of color who increasingly find themselves in “apartheid schools” after competition-driven reformers (illogically) try to use resegregation of schools as a method for undoing the damage done by Jim Crow.
As explained in my book, A Teacher’s Tale, I first encountered the Broad mentality in 2007 when Oklahoma City hired a Broad Academy graduate as superintendent. Hoping to get off to a good, collaborative start, I introduced myself to the mentor that the academy assigned to him. She was sitting with several of my old friends and civil rights allies, African-American women with decades of administrative experience that they also would have gladly shared with the rookie superintendent. The Broad Academy mentor wiped the smiles off our faces when her first words to me were, “Why don’t you in Oklahoma City teach our African-American boys to read?”
At first, I thought we could have better luck communicating with the new superintendent. He was a good enough sport to compete in my school’s “Buffalo Chip Throwing Championship.” (Dressed in a fine business suit, the superintendent finished second, behind me, but unlike the champion buffalo feces thrower, he wore a plastic glove.) The superintendent enjoyed talking with my students, but he never seemed comfortable listening to teenagers when they disagreed with his policies. In one such meeting, the superintendent explained that he wanted an aligned and paced curriculum where every class covered the same material at the same time, and where he could supervise classroom instruction by video, throughout the district, from his office. Afterwards, my students were blunt, saying that the superintendent had no idea of what he was rushing into….


Across the nation, Broad and other market-driven reformers are stepping up the use of mass school closures to defeat teachers, unions, and parents who oppose them. Even as the Billionaires Boys Club proclaims that their goal is a 21st century civil rights crusade, they impose a brutal policy where the highest-challenge students are crammed into the schools that were already the most segregated, under-resourced and low-performing. In other words, they sabotage the highest-challenge neighborhood schools in order to discredit educators in them who seek win-win school improvement policies.
The Broad Academy and their allies are thus willing to sacrifice the welfare of the most vulnerable children and to inflame racial tensions in order to defeat educators who disagree with them. Whether they do so in Oakland or Oklahoma City – in Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Denver, Washington D.C. or New Orleans – they are playing with fire. Whether we are talking about race, poverty, or special education, we must recognize the complexity of these issues and the need for nuanced conversations. As long as corporate reformers continue to vilify educators, complicated and interconnected problems will get worse. If Broad-trained superintendents had the knowledge about education that is necessary to improve schools, they would also understand why inflaming racial tensions is so dangerous.