Archives for category: Race to the Top

Tom Ultican is one of the very best chroniclers of the “Destroy Public Education” movement. He was thrilled to discover a new book that explains the origins of the attack on public schools and calls out its founding figures. Lily Geismar’s Left Behind is a book you should read and share. It helps explain how Democrats got on board with policies that conservative Republicans like Charles Koch, the Waltons, and Betsy DeVos loved. This bipartisan agreement that public schools needed to be reinvented and disrupted brought havoc to the schools, demoralized teachers, and glorified flawed standardized tests, making them the goal of schooling.

Ultican writes:

Lily Geismer has performed a great service to America. The Claremont McKenna College associate professor of history has documented the neoliberal takeover of the Democratic Party in the 1980’s and 1990’s. In her book, Left Behind: The Democrats Failed Attempt to Solve Inequalityshe demonstrates how Bill Clinton “ultimately did more to sell free-market thinking than even Friedman and his acolytes.” (Left Behind Page 13)

When in the 1970’s, Gary Hart, Bill Bradley, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, Paul Tsongas, and Tim Wirth arrived on the scene in Washington DC they were dubbed “Watergate Babies.” By the 1980’s Tip O’Neill’s aid Chris Mathews labeled them “Atari Democrats” an illusion to the popular video game company because of their relentless hi-tech focus. Geismer reports.

“Journalist Charles Peters averred that ‘neoliberal’ was a better descriptor. Peters meant it not as a pejorative but as a positive. … Neoliberals, he observed, ‘still believe in liberty and justice and a fair chance for all, in mercy for the afflicted and help for the down and out,’ but ‘no longer automatically favor unions and big government.’” (Left Behind Pages 17-18) [Emphasis added]

Democrats in search of a “third way” formed the Democratic Leadership Council to formulate policies that moved them away from unions, “big government,” and traditional liberalism.

Historian Arthur Schlesinger labeled the DLC “a quasi-Reaganite formation” and accused them of “worshiping at the shrine of the free market.”

Union pollster Victor Fingerhut called them “crypto-Republicans.”

Douglas Wilder a black Virginia politician criticized their “demeaning appeal to Southern white males.”

Others called them the “conservative white caucus” or the “southern white boys’ caucus.”

Jesse Jackson said its members “didn’t march in the ‘60s and won’t stand up in the ‘80s.” (Left Behind Pages 46-47)

In 1989, From convinced Bill Clinton to become the chairman of the DLC. That same year the DLC founded the Progressive Policy Institute to be their think tank competing with the Heritage Foundation and the CATO Institute. Today, it still spreads the neoliberal gospel.

This is an important book that explains how the Democratic Party lost its way.

John Thompson is a historian and a retired teacher. He follows politics in Oklahoma closely. This article appeared first in the OkObserver.

The arc of the history of corporate school reform has been tragic; the survival of public education in a meaningful and equitable manner is in doubt in Oklahoma and much of the rest of the nation. To understand how and why this catastrophe happened, Tennessee provides perhaps the best case study.

This multi-generational assault on schools took off during the Reagan administration with its spin on A Nation at Risk, which misrepresented the report’s research. Back then, these attacks were largely propelled by two theologies: evangelical Christianity and a worship of the “Free Market.” Two decades later, corporate school reform was driven by Neoliberal ideology, and President Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which was pushed by both Republicans and Democrats and resisted by bipartisan grassroots movements of educators, parents, and students. I will always love President Obama, but during his administration the Race to the Top (RttT) undermined teachers unions, increased segregation, and drove holistic instruction and teachers (who resisted “drill and kill” teach-to-the-test malpractice) out of so many schools.

The damage was made much worse when the Trump administration further ramped up the campaign to use charter schools and vouchers to undermine public education. Now, Tennessee is again at the front of the rightwing’s “nationwide war on public schools.”

The Progressive Magazine’s Andy Spears explains that Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s “point person on education policy is Larry Arnn, the president of Hillsdale College, a private, Christian evangelical school located in Michigan.” Arnn “compared public school systems to ‘enslavement’ and ‘the plague,’” and “accused teachers of ‘messing with people’s children,’ saying they are ‘trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country,’”

Spears reported, “Lee announced in his State of the State address that he’d reached an agreement with Arnn for Hillsdale to operate up to 100 charter schools in Tennessee.” Gov. Lee defended Arnn’s rhetoric, saying, “I’m not going to rebut someone who was speaking about left-wing problems in public education in this country.”

Clearly, Tennessee schools, like those in Oklahoma and many other states, are facing a new set of dangerous threats, and they do so after being weakened by the RttT, just as the RttT’s failure was made more predictable due to the damage done by the doomed-to-fail NCLB, which was a legacy of coordinated attacks on public education initiated by the Reagan administration.

In order to resist the latest ideology-driven falsehoods, lessons must be learned from Tennessee’s rushed corporate school reforms. Race to the Bottom, by former Nashville Board member Will Pinkston is a great example of what we need to learn about the last two decades of assaults that have left public education so vulnerable. Pinkston begins with an apology:

I helped sell the public on the Obama administration’s multi-billion-dollar Race to the Top competition. In my home state of Tennessee, Race to the Top delivered $501 million to benefit public schools — and along the way spawned some of the most-damaging education policies in modern American history.

Pinkston explained that the RttT was driven by the same “irrational exuberance” that the true believers in the “Free Market” expressed. Briefly and predictably, the half billion dollar gamble produced quick, temporary gains in the reliable NAEP test scores. Soon afterwards, scores stagnated and/or declined; after ten years they dropped to the pre-RttT levels.

Worse, Tennessee’s early education program did something that would previously have been thought to be virtually impossible. High-quality early education has a record of producing significant, often incomparable benefits, for the dollars invested. However, graduates from Tennessee’s pre-k programs were found to have “lower academic scores, more behavioral problems and more special education referrals than their peers who did not attend.” The author of the report on the longterm outcomes, Dale Farran, worried that the state’s “pre-K overall has become too academic, especially when it is enveloped by the school system, and children don’t get enough time to play, share their thoughts and observations, and engage in meaningful, responsive interactions with caregivers.”

From the beginning, the Tennessee teachers union (as would also prove true in Oklahoma) knew that data-driven, corporate reformers were ignoring the overwhelming body of social science as to why their quick fixes would backfire. But, states received “up to $250,000 each to hire consultants (McKinsey & Co. and The Bridgespan Group) to help them fill out their applications,” and establish “reward and punish” systems. I must add that in conversation after conversation with these smart Big Data experts, who “didn’t know what they didn’t know” about schools, they refused to listen to educators like me and social scientists explaining why their hurried, punitive corporate approach would backfire.

And as it became obvious that their mandates were failing, the blame game was ramped up and outsiders like the “American Legislative Exchange Council, the conservative think tank with ties to the Koch brothers,” successfully pushed for “stripping teachers of collective bargaining rights.”

Perhaps the biggest fiasco was teacher evaluations where 35 percent of the evaluation would be based on invalid, unreliable student-growth data and algorithms that were biased against teachers in high-poverty schools. The most absurd model for firing teachers used data from students who they had not taught!

Secondly, the rush to expand charter schools led to a dramatic over-expansion of schools run by Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) (as opposed to locally-led charters that might have been good partners.) CMOs were notorious for increasing economic segregation by not welcoming and/or “exiting” high-challenge students. Fortunately, Tennessee did a better job than Oklahoma of using the courts to push back on the worst of teacher evaluations and charters that would not retain higher-challenge students.

(On the other hand, pushback led by State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister saved Oklahoma schools from a disaster which would have occurred if almost every student and teacher was held accountable for inappropriate Common Core test scores, as she pushed for more charter school accountability, and promoted high-quality early education.)

Based on his personal experience and scholarly research, Pinkston concluded, “intentionally or not, Race to the Top laid the groundwork for the attempted destruction of America’s most important democratic institution — public education.” And now, a huge increase in charter schools will advance a conservative curriculum which “relies on approaches developed by Arnn and other members of the 1776 Commission appointed by Trump to develop a ‘patriotic education’ for the nation’s schools.”

In response to the latest rightwing push described by The Progressive, Pinkston tweeted:

Fellow veterans of TN’s charter wars, just a friendly reminder: Long before Hillsdale, there was Great Hearts — which actually was pushed by Hillsdale. In the words of Nashville’s former top charter zealot Karl Dean: “It’s all connected.”

And that is why Oklahomans who are upset by Gov. Stitt’s attempts to expand charters and vouchers, ban Critical Race Theory, bully transgender students, and coerce educators into complying with these mandates should remember Tennessee’s history. Alone, those attacks would have been harmful. But today’s politics of destruction are on steroids. These assaults are more frightening because they are just the latest of destructive mandates, such as NCLB and the RttT, that have dramatically weakened public schools and undermined holistic and meaningful instruction.

During the last two decades, too many Neoliberal corporate reformers were able to “kneecap” public schools. Now we’re facing extremists who now want to go for the throat, and wipe out public education while it’s down.

I will be a participant in a summer school program on Critical Race Theory. You are invited to sign up. I am part of the panel on July 20.

Greetings Friends and Colleagues, 

The African American Policy Forum is so excited to be Teaching Truth to Power this year at Critical Race Theory Summer School! It is crucial that we prepare racial justice advocates to defend the right to teach truth in classrooms. This powerful and urgent program runs July 18 to July 22, 2022. 

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July 18 – Everyday CRT: A Commonsense Framework for Racial Liberation

July 19 – Public Schools, Private Agendas: How the Assault on Racial Justice Undermines Education

July 20 – Strange Bedfellows: The Left/Right Convergence that Enabled the Normalization of White Nationalism

July 21 – Define, Do Not Defend: How to Resist the Disinformation Campaign Against CRT

July 22 – Transforming a Moment to a Movement: Building A New Coalition to Secure our Multiracial Democracy

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#TruthBeTold

Journalist Jennifer Berkshire and historian Jack Schneider wrote a warning in the New York Times to the Democratic Party about education. Democrats, they say, used to have a big advantage over Republicans on the education issue, but that advantage has almost disappeared. They say that Democrats have erred in celebrating education as the most important, if not the only, route to economic success. Meanwhile, they ignored trade unions, which dwindled under red state assaults and corporate attacks, and tax policy, which favored the rich.

While I don’t disagree with their analysis, I have a different take on why Democrats lost the education issue. Not only did they ignore growing economic inequality, but Democrats abandoned their historic devotion to public schools (attended by 90% of American students) and adopted the Republicans’ long-standing belief in choice, competition, testing, and accountability.

Thirty years later, it is indisputably clear that those policies do not improve education, do not increase opportunity for those who are at the bottom, and do not reduce economic inequality.

Under Bill Clinton in the early 1990s, the Democratic platform sounded remarkably like the Republican Party on education. Clinton and Gore pledged to create a national system of standards and tests. Their Goals 2000 legislation of 1994 laid the groundwork for George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind, which had bipartisan support. The Clinton administration created the federal Charter Schools Program in 1994, which allocated a few million dollars to help start new charters; it has now grown into a charter slush fund of $440 million annually, which is strongly supported by Republicans and for which there is no need, given the many billionaires who subsidize charters.

Race to the Top was the culmination of the Democrats’ complete merger with Republicans on education policy.

The Democrats lost their primacy as the party of public schools because they embraced Republican ideology, and they ignored the causes of economic inequality, which testing, standards, and choice could not fix.

Berkshire and Schneider write:

The warning signs are everywhere. For 30 years, polls showed that Americans trusted Democrats over Republicans to invest in public education and strengthen schools. Within the past year, however, Republicans have closed the gap; a recent poll shows the two parties separated on the issue by less than the margin of error.

Since the Republican Glenn Youngkin scored an upset win in Virginia’s race for governor by making education a central campaign issue, Republicans in state after state have capitalized on anger over mask mandates, parental rights and teaching about race, and their strategy seems to be working. The culture wars now threatening to consume American schools have produced an unlikely coalition — one that includes populists on the right and a growing number of affluent, educated white parents on the left. Both groups are increasingly at odds with the Democratic Party.

For the party leaders tasked with crafting a midterm strategy, this development should set off alarms. Voters who feel looked down on by elites are now finding common cause with those elites, forming an alliance that could not only cost the Democrats the midterm elections but also fundamentally realign American politics.

The Democrats know they have a problem. One recent analysis conducted by the Democratic Governors Association put it bluntly: “We need to retake education as a winning issue.” But reclaiming their trustworthiness on education will require more than just savvier messaging. Democrats are going to need to rethink a core assumption: that education is the key to addressing economic inequality.

The party’s current education problem reflects a misguided policy shift made decades ago. Eager to reclaim the political center, Democratic politicians increasingly framed education, rather than labor unions or a progressive tax code, as the answer to many of our economic problems, embracing what Barack Obama would later call “ladders of opportunity,” such as “good” public schools and college degrees, which would offer a “hand up” rather than a handout. Bill Clinton famously pronounced, “What you earn depends on what you learn.”

But this message has proved to be deeply alienating to the people who once made up the core of the party. As the philosopher Michael Sandel wrote in his recent book “The Tyranny of Merit,” Democrats often seemed to imply that people whose living standards were declining had only themselves to blame. Meanwhile, more affluent voters were congratulated for their smarts and hard work. Tired of being told to pick themselves up and go to college, working people increasingly turned against the Democrats.

Today, as the middle class falls further behind the wealthy, the belief in education as the sole remedy for economic inequality appears more and more misguided. And yet, because Democrats have spent the past 30 years framing schooling as the surest route to the good life, any attempt to make our education system fairer is met with fierce resistance from affluent liberals worried that Democratic reforms might threaten their carefully laid plans to help their children get ahead.

Please read the rest of their article.

Jennifer Berkshire, expert education journalist and co-author of A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door, writes in The Nation about the forces driving teachers out of the schools.

She interviewed many teachers who explained why they were leaving. Some cited ”the bad teacher” narrative promulgated by Arne Duncan and his insistence that teachers be evaluated, based on their students’ test scores, which is both ineffective and inaccurate. His and Obama’s “Race to the Top” was deeply demoralizing to teachers, and it accomplished nothing positive.

She begins:

Neal Patel survived teaching in the pandemic. It was the culture wars that did him in.

In the fall of 2020, Patel added two flags to the wall of his science classroom in Johnston, Iowa. Now, alongside images of energy waves and the electromagnetic spectrum were the Gay Pride rainbow flag and a proclamation that Black Lives Matter. The flags, says Patel, represented the kind of inclusive space he was committed to creating, sending a signal to all students that even in this conservative suburb of Des Moines, there was a place for them.

School administrators supported him—on one condition. “They’re just there as decoration,” Patel says. “The only time I discuss the flags is when a student asks me about them.”

Patel assumes it was a student who snapped a picture of the display. Somehow it ended up on the Facebook page of a conservative state legislator. Representative Steve Holt, who lives 100 miles from Johnston, pointed to the flags as evidence of creeping left-wing indoctrination in Iowa’s schools and encouraged his constituents to take a stand. Patel says he was shocked by the attention, then upset: “Holt thinks it’s a political issue to try to create an inclusive environment, and he’s using that to try to further divide our community.”Johnston has grown only more divided since Patel became Facebook fodder. At a school board meeting last fall, members debated whether to ban two books on race, including one by the Native American writer Sherman Alexie, after parents complained. The president of the Iowa State Senate, who represents a neighboring county, took the mic during the public comment period, calling for teachers who assigned “obscene” material to be prosecuted. Patel was in the crowd that night, to lend support to minority and LGBTQ students who’d come to speak out against banning the books. And he had an announcement of his own to make: This year would be his last as a teacher in Johnston.

The Obama administration made matters much worse for teachers when it imposed test-based evaluation as the heart of its “reforms.”

The thinking went something like this: Make teacher evaluations tougher, and teaching would get better, which would mean higher student achievement, more students graduating from college, and ultimately a country better able to outsmart China et al. “Tougher” meant holding teachers accountable for how their students fared on standardized tests…

In 2010, Colorado became one of the first states to enact a high-stakes teacher evaluation law; by 2017, nearly every state had one on the books. While the pandemic may have disrupted everything about schooling, policies like Colorado’s Senate Bill 10, with its 18-page evaluation rubric and 345-page user guide aimed at weeding out bad teachers, remain in place.

For Shannon Peterson, an English language acquisition teacher in Aurora, that meant leading her students through a writing exercise last fall as her principal observed. Peterson’s students, many of them immigrants who live in poverty, bore the pandemic heavily, she says: “The kids are stressed, all of their writing is about anxiety, and attendance is way down.”

To her delight, the students responded enthusiastically to the writing prompt she’d come up with: comparing and contrasting the Harlem Renaissance and Black Lives Matter, and how the entertainment industries in their respective eras related to both. In a year of stress and struggle for teachers and students alike, here was something to celebrate. “Excellent writing came out of this,” Peterson says.

Her principal wasn’t convinced. Peterson, he felt, hadn’t done enough actual teaching during the observation. “I just don’t feel comfortable checking off these boxes,” he told her.

The previous year, when the cash-strapped school district had offered teachers buyouts to leave, Peterson turned it down: “I felt an enormous obligation to go back for the kids and my colleagues.” After her evaluation, though, Peterson had reached a breaking point. She quit a week later, walking away from a career that spanned 23 years, 18½ of them in Aurora. “I’m not a box,” Peterson says.

Two weeks after Peterson resigned, a major study came out: The decade-long push to weed out bad teachers had come to naught. The billions of dollars spent, the wars with teachers’ unions, and the collapse in teacher morale had produced “null effects” on student test scores and educational attainment.

Please open the link and read the study. Billions of dollars wasted on ineffective and demoralizing teacher evaluations that produced tons of data but nothing else.

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?”

Gary Rubinstein has been following the sad career of Tennessee’s Achievement School District for a decade. The ASD was created with $100 million in Race to the Top funding, a portion of the $500 million won by the state in Arne Duncan’s competition.

The ASD was launched in 2012, when advocates of privatization earnestly believed that charter schools performed miracles. The mere act of turning a low-scoring public school over to a private operator would free the school from regulation and bad teachers and inevitably produce high test scores. Over the years, this assumption has been proven untrue, and the ASD is a leading example of great promises that produced failure.

Gary has tracked the failure of the ASD to transform low-scoring public schools into high-performing charter schools. The irony, as he notes in this overview, is that many states have copied the Tennessee ASD despite its failure to achieve its goals.

Gary writes:

The mission of the ASD was to take schools in the bottom 5% and within 5 years ‘catapult’ them into the top 25%. They started with six schools and over a period of about five years expanded into around 30 schools. The plan was to turn the schools over to charter operators and then after the schools had been successfully catapulted, they would return to the original school district.

After five years, it was clear that at least five of the original six school were still in the bottom 5%. The other one had maybe risen into the bottom 10%. Barbic resigned, Huffman resigned, the ASD changed their mission to something a lot more vague.

Now, ten years after the takeover of the original 6 schools, we learn from Chalkbeat, TN that some of those original 6 schools are returning to their district. I’ve been tracking those six schools for the past 10 years: Brick Church College Prep, Cornerstone Prep — Lester Campus, Corning Achievement Elementary School, Frayser Achievement Elementary School, Humes Preparatory Academy — Upper School, and Westside Achievement Middle School. Year after year, despite having been turned into charter schools, these schools barely budged in the rankings. One of the six, Humes, was already closed down and now, as reported by Chalkbeat, TN, two of them, Frayser and Corning are being returned to their districts even though they did not improve. Ironically, eight years ago Frayser was hailed as a miracle success story proving the effectiveness of the ASD.

There is no reason to celebrate the failure of a school, especially one enrolling vulnerable children. But there is every reason to point to the P.T. Barnum School of Charter School Propaganda. in did not achieve its goals. It disrupted the lives of children, parents, and teachers.

How shallow are the promoters of these grand plans that tear apart communities, then move on to another gig.

Last week, I posted my thoughts on “Who Demoralized the Nation’s Teachers?” I sought to identify the people and organizations that spread the lie that America’s public schools were “broken” and that public school teachers were the cause. The critics slandered teachers repeatedly, claiming that teachers were dragging down student test scores. They said that today’s teachers were not bright enough; they said teachers had low SAT scores; and they were no longer “the best and the brightest.”

The “corporate reform” movement (the disruption movement) was driven in large part by the “reformers'” belief that public schools were obsolete and their teachers were the bottom of the barrel. So the “reformers” promoted school choice, especially charter schools, and Teach for America, to provide the labor supply for charter schools. TFA promised to bring smart college graduates for at least two years to staff public schools and charter schools, replacing the public school teachers whom TFA believed had low expectations. TFA would have high expectations, and these newcomers with their high SAT scores would turn around the nation’s schools. The “reformers” also promoted the spurious, ineffective and harmful idea that teachers could be evaluated by the test scores of their students, although this method repeatedly, consistently showed that those who taught affluent children were excellent, while those who taught children with special needs or limited-English proficiency or high poverty were unsatisfactory. “Value-added” methodology ranked teachers by the income and background of their students’ families, not by the teachers’ effectiveness.

All of these claims were propaganda that was skillfully utilized by people who wanted to privatize the funding of public education, eliminate unions, and crush the teaching profession.

The response to the post was immediate and sizable. Some thought the list of names and groups I posted was dated, others thought it needed additions. The comments of readers were so interesting that I present them here as a supplement to my original post. My list identified No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and Common Core as causes of demoralization that tied teachers to a standards-and-testing regime that reduced their autonomy as professionals. One reader said that the real beginning of the war on teachers was the Reagan-era report called “A Nation at Risk,” which asserted that American public schools were mired in mediocrity and needed dramatic changes. I agree that the “Nation at Risk” report launched the era of public-school bashing. But it was NCLB and the other “solutions” that launched teacher-bashing, blaming teachers for low test scores and judging teachers by their test scores. It should be noted that the crest of “reform” was 2010, when “Waiting for Superman” was released, Common Core was put into place, value-added test scores for teachers were published, and “reformers” like Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, and other became media stars, with their constant teacher-bashing. For what it’s worth, the National Assessment of Educational Progress flatlined from 2010 onwards. Test score gains, which were supposedly the point of all this “reform” activity, were non-existent on the nation’s most consequential test (no stakes attached).

Readers also blamed demoralization on teachers’ loss of autonomy, caused by federal laws and the testing imposed by them, and by the weakness of principals and administrators who did not protect teachers from the anti-education climate caused by NCLB, RTTT, ESSA, and the test-and-punish mindset that gripped the minds of the nation’s legislators and school leaders.

Readers said that my list left off important names of those responsible for demoralizing the nation’s teachers.

Here are readers’ additions, paraphrased by me:

Michelle Rhee, who was pictured on the cover of TIME magazine as the person who knew “How to Fix American Education” and lionized in a story by Amanda Ripley. Rhee was shown holding a broom, preparing to sweep “bad teachers” and “bad principals” out of the schools. During her brief tenure as Chancellor of D.C., she fired scores of teachers and added to her ruthless reputation by firing a principal on national television. For doing so, she was the Queen of “education reform” in the eyes of the national media until USA Today broke a major cheating scandal in the D.C. schools.

Joel Klein, antitrust lawyer who was chosen by Mayor Bloomberg to become the Chancellor of the New York City public schools, where he closed scores of schools because of their low test scores, embraced test-based evaluation of schools and teachers, and opened hundreds of small specialized schools and charter schools. He frequently derided teachers and blamed them for lagging test scores. He frequently reorganized the entire, vast school system, surrounding himself with aides with Business School graduates and Wall Street credentials. Under his leadership, NYC was the epitome of corporate reform, which inherently disrespected career educators.

Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor of New York City, billionaire funder of charter schools and of candidates running for state or local offices who supported privatization of public schools. He claimed that under his leadership, the test-score gap between different racial gaps had been cut in half or even closed, but it wasn’t true. He stated his desire to fire teachers who couldn’t “produce” high test scores, while doubling the size of the classes of teachers who could. His huge public relations staff circulated the story of a “New York City Miracle,” but it didn’t exist and evaporated as soon as he left office.

Reed Hastings, billionaire funder of charter schools and founder of Netflix. He expressed the wish that all school boards would be eliminated. The charter school was his ideal, managed privately without public oversight.

John King, charter school leader who was appointed New York Commissioner of Education. He was a cheerleader for the Common Core and high-stakes testing. He made parents so angry by his policies that he stopped appearing at public events. He was named U.S. Secretary of Education, following Arne Duncan, in the last year of the Obama administration and continued to advocate for the same ill-fated policies as Duncan.

Betsy DeVos, Trump’s Secretary of Education despised public schools, unions, and teachers. She never had a good word to say about public schools. She wanted every student to attend religious schools at public expense.

Eli Broad and the “academy” he created to train superintendents with his ideas about top-down management and the alleged value of closing schools with low test scores

ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), which writes model legislation for privatizing public schools by opening charters and vouchers and lowering standards for teachers and crushing unions. More than 2,000 rightwing state legislators belong to ALEC and get their ideas directly from ALEC about privatization and other ways to crush public schools and their teachers.

Rupert Murdoch, the media, Time, Newsweek, NY Times, Washington Post for their hostility towards public schools and their warm, breathless reporting about charter schools and Teach for America. The Washington Post editorialist is a devotee of charter schools and loved Michelle Rhee’s cut-throat style. TIME ran two cover stories endorsing the “reform” movement; the one featuring Michelle Rhee, and the other referring to one of every four public school teachers as a “rotten apple.” The second cover lauded the idea that teachers were the cause of low test scores, and one of every four should be weeded out. Newsweek also had a Rhee cover, and another that declared in a sentence repeated on a chalkboard, “We Must Fire Bad Teachers,” as though the public schools were overrun with miscreant teachers.

David Coleman, the architect of the Common Core, which undermined the autonomy of teachers and ironically removed teachers’ focus on content and replaced it with empty skills. The Common Core valued “informational text” over literature and urged teachers to reduce time spent teaching literature.

Margaret Raymond, of the Walton-funded CREDO, which evaluates charter schools.

Hanna Skandera, who was Secretary of Education in New Mexico and tried to import the Florida model of testing, accountability, and choice to New Mexico. That state has one of the highest rates of child poverty in the nation, and the Florida model didn’t make any difference.

Governors who bashed teachers and public schools, like Chris Christie of New Jersey, Andrew Cuomo of New York, and Gregg Abbott of Texas

“Researchers” like those from the Fordham Institute, who saw nothing good in public schools or their teaching

Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, who turned Denver into a model of “reform,” with everything DFER wanted: charter schools and high-stakes testing.

Poorly behaving students and parents who won’t hold kids accountable for bad behavior

Campbell Brown and the 74

The U.S. Department of Education, for foisting terrible ideas on the nation’s schools and teachers, and state education departments and state superintendents for going along with these bad ideas. Not one state chief stood up and said, “We won’t do what is clearly wrong for our students and their teachers.”

The two big national unions, for going along with these bad ideas instead of fighting them tooth and nail.

And now I will quote readers’ comments exactly as they wrote them, without identifying their authors (they know who they are):

*Rightwing organizations like the American Enterprise Institute, (AEI), the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the Heritage Foundation, even the allegedly Democratic-leaning Center for American Progress (CAP) for publishing white papers masquerading as education research that promotes privatization.

*Wall St moguls who invented Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) to gamble on & profit from preK student test scores.

*Rogues Gallery. One body blow after another. A systematic 💦 water boarding with no respite. And then we add the Broad Foundation who sent Broad-trained “leadership” so drunk on arrogance and ignorance that the term “School Yard Bully” just doesn’t capture it.
Operating with the Imprimatur and thin veneer of venture capital, plutocratic philanthropy, these haughty thugs devastated every good program they laid eyes on. Sinking their claws instinctively into the intelligent, effective and cultured faculty FIRST.A well orchestrated, heavily scripted Saturday Night Massacre.

*Congress and the Presidents set the stage, but the US Department of Education was instrumental in making it all happen. They effectively implemented a coherent program to attack, smear and otherwise demoralize teachers. And make no mistake, it was quite purposeful

*This list is incomplete without members of Democrats for Education Reform. Add in Senator Ted Kennedy, whose role in the passage of No Child Left Behind was critical. Same for then Congressman and future Speaker of the House, John Boehner, who noted (bragged!) in his recent autobiography that he was essential in keeping President George W. Bush on track with NCLB.

*Let’s not forget Senate Chair Patty Murray. She has been an important player in keeping the worse of Ed Reform legislation alive.

*You have presented a rogue’s gallery of failed “reformers” that have worked against the common good. In addition to those mentioned, there has also been an ancillary group of promoters and enablers that have undermined public education including billionaire think tanks, foundations and members of both political parties. These people continue to spread lies and misinformation, and no amount of facts or research is able to diminish the drive to privatize. While so called reformers often hide behind an ideological shield, they are mostly about the greedy pursuit of appropriating the education that belongs to the people and transferring its billions in value into the pockets of the already wealthy. So called education reform is class warfare.

*The Clintons, whose 1994 reauthorization of ESEA set the stage for NCLB

*Don’t forget the so called ‘liberal’ media, publications such as the New York Times and the Boston Globe who have published pro charter piece after pro charter piece, while simultaneously dumping all over public schools

*I’d like to include a cast of editorialists like George Will, Bill Rhoden, and many others, who have parroted the plutocratic-backed Ed Reform line. Armstrong Williams would certainly be part of this.

*Going back even further into the origins of this madness, I would add to Diane’s excellent rogues gallery those unknown bureaucrats in state departments of education who replaced broad, general frameworks/overall strategic objectives with bullet lists of almost entirely content-free “standards” that served as the archetype of the Common [sic] Core [sic] based on the absurd theory that we should “teach skills” independent of content, all of which led, ironically, to trivialization of and aimlessnessness in ELA pedagogy and curricula and to a whole generation of young English teachers who themselves NOW KNOW NEXT TO NOTHING OF THE CONTENT OF THEIR SUBJECT, typified by the English teacher who told one of the parents who regularly contributes comments to this blog, “I’m an English teacher, so I don’t teach content.” So, today, instead of teaching, say, Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” as part of a coherent and cumulative unit on common structures and techniques and genres of poetry, one gets idiotic test-practice exercises on “inferencing” and “finding the main idea,” with any random piece of writing as the “text.”

*It’s driven by how teachers have been treated the past 4-5 years, especially during the pandemic. Teachers are first responders. We should have been on the list of first-to-be-vaccinated. Schools should have strict mask and vaccine mandates. Teachers are professional educators. We should not be told what and how to teach by ignorant, conspiracy-driven MAGA parents. Public education is a cornerstone of democracy, and we teachers are motivated by a sense of civic duty. We are demoralized by attempts to destroy public education, led by anti-education bible-thumping “leaders” like Betsy DeVos and (in my home state) Frank Edelblut. Public education is being dismantled by gleeful right-wingers, while naive, well-intentioned moderates wring their hands and do little to defend it. It’s tiring to be under constant attack on the front lines, with no support. That’s why teachers are leaving today.

*One tiny example of a routine phenomenon. Teachers got the message pretty clearly: They were at the bottom of the pecking order. The absolute bottom. Micromanaged and undercut at every turn.Excellent points. The heavy handed top-down, bureaucratic demands for “data,” basically serve one goal, to justify the existence of administration.Don’t forget the voracious appetite of publishing companies…We had a district administrator prance around in our “professional; development days” tell use could not read novels or other picture books to the students…ONLY USE PEARSON.”And then 7 or so years later, the district made us THROW OUT every book from Pearson, and they bought new crap curriculum…that program was written by testing industry, not educators, I think it was “Benchmark,” real junk.

*I’d like to mention how I often lose my student teachers when they see the edTPA requirement. They switch majors, and the teaching pool gets even smaller.

*After Skamdera in NM came the TFA VAM sweetheart Christopher Ruszkowski. At least he had 3 years in a classroom, Skammy had none, but the Florida model, you know?

*Children’s behavior is in large part in response to the drill and kill curriculum and endless testing and teaching to the test that has been driving public education since NCLB and the back-to-basics movement that ushered it in. No room for creativity, no room for self expression, no room for innovation. Highly scripted Curriculum like Open Court turned children into little automatons, barking their answers like well trained dogs and turned teachers into task masters. It was a drive to dummy down the curriculum for fear of teaching too much free thinking. And a drive to turn teachers into testing machines and teacher technicians, easily replaced by anyone who can walk in a classroom and pick up the manual. Only it doesn’t work. It was and is developmentally inappropriate and the resulting rebellion in the classrooms if proof of that. No wonder teachers are leaving in droves!

*Under threat of closure of the MA school board in the mid 1800s, Horace Mann turned to the cheapest labor he could find, literate northern females, and deployed the Protestant ethic “teacher as a calling” trope to institute state free-riding on teachers (as opposed to the free-riding of which teachers are accused). Everything in this piece is correct except for the “almost” in the final paragraph. There’s no “almost” about it … free-riding on teachers is an operational feature of a system imported from Prussia, designed to produce cheap, obedient labor by underpaying women. As of 2012, teachers would need to make around 1/3 higher salaries to be paid on the same level as their professional peers. Everyone mentioned in the article is simply this generation’s enactment of the long-standing, systemic class war that preys on gender and race to continue and exacerbate inequity. While naming the current situation is very important, we also need to discuss, address, and shift these deep issues.

*It’s the boiled frog effect over the last 50 years that began as a response to mini-courses, sixties curriculum, obsession over college attendance, professors and teachers walking out to protest with their students, Viet Nam… and the Civil Rights Act. Since 1964, Intentional segregation influenced Local, state, and federal decision making on transportation, health care, insurance, zoning, housing, education funding, hiring, and more. When whites fled the cities and insured two sides of the tracks in towns and two systems evolved, quick fixes became that accumulation of bad decisions and leadership – and slowly, slowly, deterioration became acceptable.

*The list is not dated. It’s illustrative of the accumulation of negativity, quick-fix seeking, acronym-filled, snake-oil salesmen, desperate mayors and governors, obsession with rankings, publisher fixation on common core, NCLB votes hidden under the shadow of 9/11, and keep-everyone-happy state and national professional organizations.

*At the end of 2021 it is far right and left of politics and their rhetoric like CRT and homophobic slurs. So much for especially the “Christian Right.” In their god’s (yes lower case since not The Lord Jesus Christ’s New Testament words of love) name they exclude instead of include to share the good news/word.

*Data, data, data. Yesterday, I commented that I feel sympathetic toward the anti-CRT petitioners. I do. They’re not bad people. They’re just afraid of changing social rules. Their actions are demoralizing, but not dehumanizing. Wealthy corporations and individuals on the other hand , through their untaxed foundations, gave carrots to governments the world over to give the stick to education so that greater profits could be made through privatization and data monetizing. I was once called a 2. I was once labeled the color grey. I was numbered, dehumanized by test score data in an attempt to make education like Uber or Yelp. Not just demoralized, dehumanized. It’s not just who but what dehumanized teachers. It was the wrongheaded idea that education can be measured and sold by the unit. That idea was insidious. The marketing ploy to make my students into consumers who consider their efforts junk unless they are labeled with the right number or dashboard color was insidious. I have no sympathy for the investor class. They are not people with whom I disagree about social issues; they are hostile, corporate takeover wolves out to tear the flesh of the formerly middle and deeply impoverished classes for profit. Not one of the investors in education “reform” or any of their revolving door bureaucrats is any friend of mine. The list of who is long. The list of what is short.

*Jonah Edelman (Founder, Stand on Children); brother Josh Edelman (Gates Foundation: Empowering-?!–Effective Teaching; SEED Charter Schools); Charles & David Koch. Pear$on Publishing monopoly&, of course, ALEC (interfering in our business for FIFTY long years!)

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.