Archives for category: Teach for America

David Berliner is one of the most accomplished education scholars in the nation. A list of his accomplishments would fill a couple of pages so I will say only that the Regius Professor Emeritus at Arizona State University.

Berliner shared his thoughts about the current efforts in red states to destroy the teaching profession:

My Incredibly Short Career as a Brain Surgeon and Some Thoughts About Teaching

When I was an undergraduate psychology major at UCLA I studied physiological psychology, particularly neuroanatomy. During my Masters’program at California State College at Los Angeles I landed a job as a research assistant at the UCLAbrain research center. There I did some fascinatingstudies of brain functioning. Well, more accurately, my job was to get some rats drunk and then test them. I gave the rats a little alcohol, then I had a little alcohol, then they got a bit more, and then I…. well, I am sure you get the picture. I continued to read my physiological psychology textbooks, and in addition have found the works of Oliver Sachs and A. S. Luria to be wonderful reading. In fact, it was Sachs’ engaging “The man who mistook his wife for a hat”that inspired me to write essays such as this.

I note also that I frequently buy and avidly read whatever popular science magazines come out featuring stories about the brain. I am up on CAT scans and fMRIs and the latest techniques for stroke victims, and much, much more. Just as important as all the technical knowledge I posses is the fact that I also have a flair for carving, a skill attested to by anyone who has had thanksgiving dinner with my family.

Naturally, with such interest, such knowledge, and such skills, I have always thought that I would make a great brain surgeon. My secret fantasy was to become the greatest brain cartographer in modern times, locator of Berliners’ spot, or the Berliner bundle. I secretly dreamed I could eventually locate and describe how memory works–a goal of every psychologist.

Then, out of the blue, the most wonderful opportunity arose. I discovered that there was a chance that I could get to be a brain surgeon after all. I might actually be able to practice my real vocational love. This wonderful and exciting change in my life, one that I had dreamed about for so long, was suddenly within my grasp because that day, my newspaper ran a feature story on the scarcity of surgeons at the hospitals serving the most needy members of our society. One of our largest State supported big-city hospitals complained that it was short neurosurgeons all week. Furthermore, on weekends, in the emergency rooms, they never had a specialist on whom to call.

My local newspaper, for many years, took a conservative, free market approach to the economy.So, over the years, it has often been in favor of deregulating just about everything, particularly teaching. On the day I was reading about the shortage in the emergency room my newspaper ran an editorial on socialism in the United States of America using the “inefficient public school system” as their model. They cited someone who believed that “government schools” were founded on Marxist-Leninist principles. America’s schools, the paper continued, were failures when measured against the rest of the world or against the results of private schooling. The newspapers’ solution was more free enterprise, including vouchers for children, having schools compete with each other, and the closing of the useless schools of education. They, and one of our many Arizona governors who ended up in prison, eventually argued that anyone with a bachelor’s degree could teach because teaching wasn’t all that complicated.

Our newspaper was then owned by the Pulliam family. That is the family that gave America the well-known intellectual Vice-president Dan Quayle. It was he who said, among other things, that his goal was to have as few government regulations as possible. Quayle’s views, the news from the hospital, and the editorial seemed to provide the perfect set of conditions for propelling me into the career I always wanted. I actually shivered with hope and excitement.

It was time for people with my kinds of skill to step in and serve where clear social needs had been identified. I thought, “let a thousand points of light shine!” I thought it was time to get government out of trying to do everything. What we needed was a resurgence of volunteerism to renew the spirit of America. I thought of John Kennedy and I asked not what my country could do for me but what I could do for my country. And so I went to the hospital that had reported the shortages and volunteered to take the neurosurgery rounds on weekends.

I told them I hold a doctors’ degree (well, actually, I really do have three doctorates, but I thought they would rebel if I asked them to call me Dr. Dr. Dr.). I informed them that I have a high level of knowledge about brain functioning and understood perfectly the technologies that existed to examine brains, and, with false modesty, I also told them that I really could carve quite well. While the hospital administrator was weighing my offer, I thought: “By golly, this is it, my big chance. I may be able to change careers over night and make my dear mother posthumously ecstatic, by becoming a “real” doctor.”

I sat there waiting, thinking that if computer programmers can become high school teachers of mathematics overnight; if oil company geologists can become earth science teachers overnight; if mothers of two with bachelor degrees in either home or international economics, choose to enter the classroom when their youngest goes off to school and can get a job immediately, without any training beyond their life skills; and if military personnel of all kinds can get jobs in schools, and even jobs to run schools,immediately after they serve our nation; then I, with my skills and interest in neuroanatomy, should prove to be a great catch for the field of medicine. I knew I had what it takes and now here I was getting ready to demonstrate my talents. It was so exciting!

Alas. My hopes were quickly dashed. The administrator of the hospital informed me that they had no openings at that moment, but that one of their other physicians, a psychiatrist, would like to see me. I left quickly. I could tell he did not believe that I had enough knowledge and skill for the job, and I think that I sensed correctly that I could never convince him otherwise. I was crushed.

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I don’t know why, but for some strange reason people think that medicine is hard and teaching is easy. But let’s look a little closer at that. A physician usually works with one patient at a time, while a teacher serves 25, 30 or in places like Los Angeles and other large cities, they may be serving 35 or more youngsters simultaneously. Many of these students don’t speak English well. Typically, anywhere from 5-15% will show emotional and/or cognitive disabilities. Most are poor, and many reside in single parent families. There is also another important difference in the motives of patients and students. Most patients seek out their physicians, choosing to be in their office. On the other hand, many students seek to be out-of-class, preferring the streets to classrooms thatcannot engage them, and in which they often are made to feel inadequate.

I always wonder how physicians would fare if 30 or so kids with the kinds of sociological characteristics I just described showed up for medical treatment all at once, and then left 50 minutes later, healed or not!And suppose that chaotic scene was immediately followed by thirty or more different kids, but with similar sociological backgrounds, also in need of personal attention. And they too stayed about 50 minutes, and then they also had to leave. Imagine waves of these patients hitting a physicians’ office five or six times a day!

In addition, teachers are usually away from other adults for long segments of the day, with no one helping them, which makes possession of a strong bladder one of the least recognized attributes of an effective teacher. Physicians, on the other hand, often have a nurse and secretary to do some of the work necessary to allow them to concentrate on the central elements of their one-on-one practice. Andthey actually have time to relieve their bladdersbetween patients, which helps improve their decision making skills!

That so many teachers and schools do so well under the circumstances I just described shows how undervalued the craft of teaching is, and how little respect there is for pedagogical knowledge. In fact, much of the knowledge needed for teaching and for successful medical treatment is clinical knowledge, or tacit knowledge, not easily described, and hard to teach to someone else. That’s why physicians have grand rounds and a lengthy apprenticeship. Their prolonged apprenticeship is what gets them started learning what it means to be a practicing physician—not a competent student of biology, chemistry, and pharmacology. Every clinician (psychologists, physicians, social workers, and teachers alike) knows that book learning can only teach a little slice of what it means to be a success in practice. The recognition of this fact is the quite sensible reason behind the requirement that teachers need to take teaching methods courses such as how to teach mathematics, how to teach phonics and comprehension skills, how science is learned, and so forth. Course work in mathematics, English literature, and science have no more to say about the teaching of mathematics, literature, and physics than books on organic chemistry prepare a physician for their medical practice. Lengthy residencies are needed in medicine to learn to be a physician and extensive student teaching is needed to become a competent teacher. Fields of complexity, with a strong element of art infusing their practice, and with much of their knowledge base tacit, require prolonged time for learning the minimum, and much longer for learning to be competent on a regular basis.

They won’t let me be a brain surgeon because I have none of the tacit knowledge needed to go along with my book knowledge, interest, desire to serve the public, and of course, my superb carving skills. I can accept that. But why the hell would anyone think it’s different in education?

Please—let’s keep untrained but good-hearted people out of classrooms until and unless they get some training in how to do that complex job well. Classroom teaching is hard work, noble work, and in some way, the life and death of our nation in a global economy depends on having competent people doing such work. The physician is literally, rather than figuratively dealing with life and death. This gets them higher status, respect, and remuneration then our teachers get, but it is no more complex work, no more arduous, no more important to our nation, and certainly no more noble!

Let’s be clear: Those who come into teaching from other fields have much to contribute. But not if we count their other experience as equivalent to studying about teaching methods, and not if their other experiences excuse them from anapprenticeship such as student teaching, which most regularly certified teachers have experienced. Regularly certified teachers usually take 12-16 weeks of supervised student teaching. Those coming in to teaching from non- traditional routes, say those whoenter teaching through the program called Teach for America (TFA), experience much less practice. The bright, young, highly motivated, recent college graduates who join TFA, ordinarily have 5 weeks of teaching experience with students who are not likely to be similar to those they actually end up teaching. Listen to Matt Brown one of those bright, committed TFA recruits:

“when I walked in that door to my trailer, I didn’t have a freakin’ clue. I had been a 1st grader teacher for five weeks [the training period] and …I had never taught more than two hours in a day. I didn’t know how to set up a classroom, manage racial tensions, work with co-workers who weren’t thrilled I was there, deal with parents, unit plan…really ANYTHING. I was eaten alive right from the start, and never really found my footing.

….The stresses of the constant failure of my work began to change me in ways I’m not so proud to admit. I started to find myself snapping at my students, punishing them to prove a point, or yelling more and more (in real life, I never yell…and seldom actually get angry). I used to get extremely stressed during certain parts of the day (say, when a troublemaking student would be in my room for an hour), but I gradually began to feel that way during the whole day…and then on my ride to school, and then even when I woke up on a weekday. Some days, I got to school two hours early, only to sit in the parking lot with the music on full blast, and my sunglasses on…so nobody would know I was crying. Other days, I threw up before going to school. Often, a particularly bad event at school could keep me upset for two days straight.1

My former student and colleague, Dr. BarbaraVeltri, provides much more documentation from other first year underprepared teachers, all backing up Matt’s story about the failure of so many TFA recruits in their initial year. That’s why Veltri titled her oft citedbook “Learning on other peoples’ kids.”2 These are the poor, of course, the throw away kids: the kind of kids one learns to teach with. These are the ones on whom lots of mistakes are made, before moving out of the profession or on to schools with easier to teach children. By the way, it’s really no different in medicine. Had I gotten my job as a brain surgeon I am sure that I would have been working on the poorest people, where my “mistakes” would not have mattered as much! Our society does identify “lesser” humans, mostly the poor, and therefore frequentlyracial minorities, where inexperienced physicians andteachers are allowed to develop their skills. Higher rates of mistakes are permitted to be made with poor people, so that lower rates of mistakes will occur when dealing with “people of more substance!”

Perhaps the recognition of their incompetence, and their impotence in dealing with the overwhelming problems of poverty, are what drive many, like Matt (above) to leave the profession before their two-year commitment is up. It is certainly likely that Matt didn’tknow, and his coaches didn’t either because they lacked experience and were not scholars in education, that teachers have been found to make about .7 decisions per minute during interactive teaching!X Another researcher estimated that teachers’ decisions numbered about 1,500 per day.XDecision fatigue, is among the many reasons teachers are tired after what some critics call a short work day, forgetting or ignoring the enormous amount of time needed for preparation, for grading papersand homework, and for filling out bureaucratic formsand attending school meetings.

In fact, it takes about 10 years for teachers to hit their maximum ability to produce the most learningfrom their students.X But about the time the TFA dilatant teachers start to get competent in their job, around their fourth year,

64% of the TFA recruits have left the profession, a much higher rate than among regularly certified teachers.

To be fair, however, the 36% of TFA recruits who stay longer in the field then they originally committed to, are most welcome additions to the profession. But as they gained in competency, they may have hurt a lot of poor children during their apprenticeship by fire!

Lets face it: People who want to practice medicine or education without sufficient training are ignorant, arrogant, or both. And those that would let them do so will only allow them to work with throw-away humans—the flotsam and jetsam found in many urban hospital emergency rooms, and the powerless poor in the impoverished schools of rural America, or in the the same urban neighborhoods as many of our “teaching” hospitals.

In education, we might think of legislators and accrediting bodies that allow untrained personnel to enter classrooms as traitors. Yes, a harshpronouncement, I know, but the term fits. Persons who betray their country, are correctly called traitors. The legislators, accrediting bodies, and chambers-of-commerce that endorse putting untrained or minimally trained teachers before poor children are hurting America, betraying the principles that Jefferson explicated 200 years ago. Jefferson, a slave-holder and not nearly as democratic as we might have wanted one of our founding fathers to be, did help to persuade his fellow founders of the nation that the poor have talent in equal degree as do the rich. Thus,the poor deserved the same education as the rich, in order to cultivate those talents, so they can be used in service of the nation. He believed that the best way to preserve an ever-fragile democracy was a system of free public schooling. Those who would allow unqualified teachers to enter the classrooms of the poor are traitors to Jeffersonian principles.

So for me, advocates of an “open market” in teacher certification are deliberately hurting America, and that, to me, is a traitorous act, especially since the research shows that teaching credentials do matter, and do actually lead to higher student achievement3. On top of that, most advocates for a free market in credentialing would never allow their own children to have an untrained novice, or an inadequately trained teacher, nor would they allow their children to attend schools that rely heavily on such teachers. The hypocrisy and traitorous actions of legislators, business leaders, and policy analysts whoadvocate allowing anyone to teach in a school that would have them as teachers, ensures that social class social membership will remain as it is—difficult to modify. Moreover, the children most likely to be assigned teachers who have little, or no training, are children of color. So, on top of all my other charges, we might want to raise the issue of racism with the advocates of little or no credentialing for teachers. Traitors? Preservationists of the class structure? Racists? Wow! This is tough language for describing some of America’s most noted politicians, business people, and columnists. But until they put their own children in classes whose teachers are inadequately trained, I think it is fair to charge them with deliberately harming our nation. I’ll apologize to these anti-teacher-credentialing group when they let me operate on their family either as a teacher to their children, or as a surgeon on their brain!

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1. Retrieved July 22, 2010, from: ​http://relentlesspoa.wordpress.com/2010/05/18/why-i-quit-teach-for-america/

2. Veltri, B. (2010). Learning on other peoples kids. Charlotte, NC: Infromation Age Publishing.

3. Clotfelter, C. T., Ladd, H. F., & Vigdor, J. L. (2010).Teacher Credentials and Student Achievement in High School: A Cross-Subject Analysis with Student Fixed Effects. Journal of Human Resources 45 (3), 655-681. 

4. D-H.

5. *Researchers Hilda Borko and Richard Shavelson summarized studies that reported decisions perminute during interactive teaching.

6. *Researcher Philip Jackson (p. 149) said that elementary teachers have 200 to 300 exchanges with students every hour (between 1200-1500 a day), most of which are unplanned and unpredictable calling for teacher decisions, if not judgments.

 

Like many other states, Texas is facing a dramatic shortage of teachers. Teachers are fed up by low pay, poor working conditions, and the disrespect heaped on them by hare-brained politicians like Governor Gregg Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick. While the politicians blabber on about “parental rights,” by which they mean the right of parents to dictate curriculum and to censor books, none of them talk about the value of teachers and their importance.

Politicians tell teachers that they must not discuss gender or sexuality. They must not discuss the past or presence of racism, which is alive and well in Texas and everywhere else. Politicians prattle on about “critical race theory,” which they do not understand and cannot define. Bottom line, they don’t want teachers to talk about racism because it makes the politicians uncomfortable; it makes racists uncomfortable when you mention their bigotry.

The Houston Chronicle reports:

More Texas teachers are considering leaving the profession than at any point in the last 40 years, according to new polling from the Texas State Teachers Association.

The survey found that 70 percent of teachers were seriously considering quitting this year, a substantial jump from the 53 percent who said so in 2018, the last time the typically biennial survey was conducted. Teachers attributed their grim outlook to pandemic-related stress, political pressure from state lawmakers, less support from parents and stretched finances.

I don’t know where they got that “last 40 years” number, because there was never a time when so many teachers were ready to throw in the towel and walk away from their classrooms.

Texas can’t afford to pay teachers more? Nonsense. Texas, under Abbott’s non-leadership, doesn’t want to pay teachers more. Abbott sees more to be gained politically by demonizing teachers.

In the survey, which was completed by 688 Texas teachers, 94 percent said the pandemic increased their professional stress, and 82 percent said financial stress was exacerbated. Experts have pointed to better pay as a key way to recruit and retain teachers. Respondents taught for about 16 years on average, and their average salary was around $59,000. That’s about $7,000 below the national trend, according to the teachers association.

Besides salary, Texas teachers on average also receive some of the worst retirement benefits of those in any state, a separate study from June found. Teachers who have retired since 2004 have not received a cost-of-living adjustment, although the Legislature has passed some “13th check” bills that send extra annuity payments.

In addition to pay, 85 percent said they felt state lawmakers held a negative view of teachers, 65 percent said the public held a negative view and 70 percent said support from parents had decreased over the last several years.

Abbott and fellow Republicans in the Texas Legislature have recently enacted several high-profile education policies, over opposition from teachers groups and education experts.

Last year, the Legislature placed restrictions on social studies curriculum, prohibiting certain discussions about racism. Abbott banned school districts from instituting mask mandates last fall, as COVID-19 cases surged. And schools are now facing calls for censorship of books that include discussions about race, gender or sexual orientation.

“For political reasons, Gov. Abbott has been trying to drive a wedge between parents and teachers, and this has definitely hurt teachers and hurt their students as well. It threatens the future of public education in Texas,” wrote TSTA President Ovidia Molina.

“Many of these teachers will be missing from our classrooms this fall, and for others, it is only a matter of time.”

Abbott has defended the measures as a way to depoliticize education and restore power to families about what their children do and don’t learn. He is calling for “Parental Bill of Rights” legislation next year to give parents even more control, as conservatives criticize the public school system as too progressive.

“Many parents are growing increasingly powerless about what to do to regain that control. That must end,” Abbott has said. “No government program can replace the role that parents play in the education of their children.”

A spokeswoman for the governor, Renae Eze, emphasized his commitment to education funding and “support for our hardworking teachers.”

“In 2019, the Governor signed into law one of the biggest teacher pay raises in our state’s history—over $1 billion in annual investment—and established the Teacher Incentive Allotment, which puts teachers on a pathway to earning a six-figure salary while prioritizing high-need areas and rural schools,” Eze said.

The Teacher Incentive Allotment gives raises to high-performing teachers. It has been rolled out to about 10 percent of Texas’ roughly 1,200 school districts, but almost all of the funds for the statewide program go to Dallas ISD — receiving 10 times more than any other district. The program is opposed by teachers unions, which advocate instead for universal raises.

Here are a few thoughts for Governor Abbot.

You have done everything possible to politicize the classroom with your bans and censorship.

You have insulted teachers.

You have pitted parents against teachers.

You have put your money into a merit pay incentive program that has never worked anywhere in the nation. Ever.

Your gag orders, your insertion of politics into what teachers teach, your hostility to public education demonstrates your contempt for teachers.

Your devotion to vouchers shows that you prefer schools where teachers have no certification, no preparation at all to teach. If you get your way, employers will avoid Texas. You favor indoctrination over education. You oppose freedom of thought. Your students will finish high school poorly educated. Texas will go backwards.

Shame on you.

Peter Greene was pleased to learn that the number of applications to Teach for America has steadily declined since 2013. In a way, it’s not surprising because “the entire teaching professional pipeline has been drying up.” TFA blames the pandemic but it’s decline started long before the pandemic.

TFA used to boast that it’s ill-trained recruits were superior to those with professional training, even to experienced teachers (who allegedly did not have “high expectations” like TFA). But you don’t hear much of that boasting any more.

Greene writes:

TFA has long been mocked for putting their people in classrooms with little training or support, but the damage done by unqualified rookies in the classroom has been dwarfed by the damage done by their products after they leave the classroom. TFA has unleashed a small army of “former teachers” and “education experts” who spent two whole years in the classroom (knowing full well that they weren’t going to stay, and therefor had no real reason to try to learn and develop professional understanding) but now feel qualified to tell actual teachers what to do. It has become predictably cliche–scratch almost every clueless edupreneur and amateur hour policy leader who claims to have started out as a teacher, and you find a TFA product.

Worse, for the past few years they’ve been leaning into that part of their mission, that “spend a couple of years in a classroom as a way to launch your career as a policy leader and education thought leader who can spread the gospel of reformsterism.” This has turned out to be the most damaging legacy of TFA, and the fewer people they recruit to carry it on, the better of the world of US education will be.

Chalkbeat reports that Teach for America will field the smallest number of recruits in 15 years.


The organization expects to place just under 2,000 teachers in schools across the country this coming fall. That’s just two-thirds of the number of first-year teachers TFA placed in schools in fall 2019, and just one-third of the number it sent into the field at its height in 2013.

The latest drops are a continuation of a years-long trend. Still, it’s a striking decline for an organization that’s played a prominent role in American debates about how to improve education and how to staff schools that often struggle to attract and retain teachers….

Alongside declines in enrollment at traditional teacher prep programs and other nontraditional programs, it’s also more evidence that interest in becoming an educator in the U.S. has fallen.

TFA has received hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal government and big philanthropies. Its founder Wendy Kopp used to say that better teachers would end poverty. It wasn’t true then and its not true now, nor is it accurate to say that TFA supplied “better” teachers than career educators.

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!)

This post is Mercedes Schneider at her best, pulling together the strings of a tangled web involving money, power, TFA, Chiefs for Change, John White, the Rhode Island $5 million contract, and Julia Rafael-Baer.

Read it to the end. It’s rich with details that show how an ambitious young person can monetize her TFA experience and her network.

There is big money to be made in the education industry. Unfortunately, not for classroom teachers who devote their lives to their students.

Louisiana hIgh school teacher Mercedes Schneider is required by law to file a financial disclosure form every year, and she never misses the deadline. State board member Kira Orange-Jones is also required to file a financial disclosure form but she misses the deadline year after year, even thought is supposed to be fined for late filing. Orange-Jones is also a senior Vice President of Teach for America. Another mystery in her paperwork is her residence. Her husband, writes Schneider, resides in New Mexico. Where does Orange-Jones live?

Schneider writes:

Orange-Jones is notorious for failing to file her personal financial disclosures and is years in arrears on associated fines.

On August 11, 2019, I wrote a post about Orange-Jones, who at that point had not filed her personal disclosures for 2018 or 2017– and whose residential address was in question because her husband filed his personal disclosure using a NM address. I also included info on BESE meetings Orange-Jones missed.

The next day– August 12, 2019– Orange-Jones filed those missing 2017 and 2018 disclosures, but her filings were incomplete, and she has yet to pay the associated fines ($4300; see page 14 of this “failure to pay late fees” list).

Orange-Jones’ last ethics filing was on November 04, 2019, to amend info on her 2017 disclosure.

Since then, no new filings from Orange-Jones.

No 2020 filing. Not even a 2019 filing.

One big question continues to be Orange-Jones’ residential address. As of 2020, is she living in Louisiana or elsewhere? The public cannot answer this question in a timely manner based on Orange-Jones’ ethics disclosures because her latest filing is for 2018.

This is a fascinating paper published in the peer-reviewed Education Policy Analysis and Archives in 2018. It explores the question of how Forbes magazine selects the “edu-preneurs” who are recognized as education leaders. It is quite a plum to receive this recognition, as it supposedly confers recognition on those young people who are “the best hope for revolutionizing and reforming education.” This recognition sets them apart as “experts,” despite their youth and meager experience.

The authors are T. Jameson Brewer, Nicholas D. Hartlep, and Ian M. Scott.

They see this selection process as a means of advancing privatization and the market-orientation of education, given the composition of the judges and the winners.

The marketization of public education in the era of neoliberalism elevates buzzwords like “innovation,” “investments,” “return on investments,” and “technology integration.” Moreover,  within the context of education and schooling, the professional status of educators is challenged in an effort to exalt the logic and norms of the business class. President Trump, a businessman, appointed Betsy DeVos to be the Secretary of Education despite the fact she and her children have never attended public schools. The message the White House sent to Americans is that experience in education is not a necessary component of administrating education. Education reform, both Forbes 30 Under 30 in Education 5 domestically and internationally, has been led by a consortium of organizations and individuals who have expanded market-oriented reforms throughout schools. Those market-oriented reforms have included charter schools, school vouchers, and alternative certification training for teachers. The logic, as it were, is that government based training, organization, and control of schooling is woefully inefficient and would benefit from market competition. Finding roots in Milton Friedman, market-oriented education reformers seek to inject competition (note the business terminology) into the public sphere of public education. And, despite a growing body of research that suggests that charter schools underperform traditional public schools (Miron, Mathis, & Welner, 2015) and exacerbate segregation (Author & Lubienski, 2017; Frankenberg, 2011; Frankenberg & Lewis, 2012), and other research raising concerns over alternative certification programs like Teach For America (Brewer, 2014; Anderson, 2013a, 2013b; Redding & Smith, 2016; Scott, Trujillo, & Rivera, 2016), these reforms continue to expand. And these reforms are not conducted within a vacuum. The disproportionate number of TFA alumni who have received the Under30 and the shared language of neoliberal education reform highlight the common understandings and aims of market-oriented reformers (Lahann & Reagan, 2011)…

Given Forbes’ s ideological commitment to promoting business-oriented reforms in education, the Under30 award itself—using the language of industry—highlights the role that neoliberalism continues to play across education reforms. Grounded in the assumption that government is both too ineffective and inefficient to oversee schools (Chubb & Moe, 1990; Friedman, 1955, 1997, 2002; Greene, Forster, & Winters, 2005; Walberg & Bast, 2003), neoliberalism asserts a solution of free-market competition and individualization (Ball, 1994, 2003, 2007, 2012; Giroux, 2004; Harvey, 2005). As explicated in our findings, the individuals who receive the Under30 not only lack degrees in education, but the judges of the award and the majority of the awardees have direct connections to organizations that operate along an ideological commitment to competition, deregulation, and privatization (often, for-profit). In their discussion of alliances and divisions within the policy landscape, DeBray-Pelot, Lubienski, and Scott (2007) outlined how  various types of ideological groups influence policy outcomes. Our analysis here adds to that work by contributing further empirical evidence that the market-oriented landscape has become more complex in that support for such reforms have shared connections across the ideological (and often competing) stances of “Centrist/New Democratic,” (e.g., National Alliance for Public Charter Schools) “Center/Left,” (e.g., Center for American Progress) “Neoliberal,” (e.g., Center for Education Reform, Walton Foundation, Broad Foundation, New Schools Venture Fund, etc.) and “States’ rights” (e.g., American Legislative Exchange Council) groups presented in their findings

If we were to apply social closure theory to Under30, we might ask ourselves: “Who are the judges, and who are the recipients?” The four judges for the 2017 competition were: (1) Stacey Childress, the CEO of NewSchools Venture Fund, (2) Arne Duncan, the Managing Partner of Emerson Collective, (3) Wendy Kopp, the Co-founder of Teach for America (TFA) and Teach for  All, and (4) Marcus Noel, the Founder of Heart of Man Ventures and a TFA alum (see Howard & Conklin, n.d.). We might also ask, “Who were the recipients of the award?” If the award recipients  were found to be mostly from the organizations that were connected to the judges, then we might be able to discern whether social closure is occurring. By nominating and awarding Under30 to people like themselves, the judges effectively act as gatekeepers to the resources and benefits that come to those who receive such a designation. Those benefits are national recognition, marketing of the individual and the individual’s organization or business by Forbes , and networking connections made during the Under30 Summit (a multi-day event of speeches and networking). Given that the purpose of the Under30 is to identify and celebrate those who are leading in their industry, receiving the Under30 designation stands to help recipients expand their business ventures.

Raymond Murphy (2001) points out that social closure is really about monopolization of opportunities. What this means is social closure and closed networks lead to protecting power and maintaining the same messages and signal ideologies. Within the realm of the Under30 network, those ideologies are ones that elevate ideologies of pro-privatization and pro-marketization of schools and education. These ideologies support the de-professionalization of teacher preparation.  The manifestation of social closure increases and is an outcome of echo chambers whereby members of the closed network not only engage in self-congratulations but rely on the growing network information and resources to further its shared ideology. Social closure is not a new area of study; it has been documented to exist in higher education award systems, such as the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Fellows program (Hartlep et al., 2017). However, the present study contributes new knowledge to how social closure can lead to moving forward policies that are pro-market and pro-privatization and that lead to bolstering edu-preneurship.

The authors reviewed the resumes of five years of recipients of the 30Under30 award. Few of them had studied education.

Only four of 192 Under30 recipients over the last five years have had an undergraduate degree that focuses on education. While 23 have master’s degrees in some field connected to education, many of them completed that training through partnerships between universities and Teach For America (TFA), which has some control over the courses their corps members take...

Wendy Kopp, the founder of TFA, and Stacey Childress, the CEO of NewSchools Venture Fund, both have served as judges for the majority of the years that the Under30 award has included the education industry. Additionally, other judges alongside Kopp and Childress have direct ties to the individuals and organizations being recognized through the award. While there is no way to know the academic background and connections of all of the Under30 nominees—that is, we do not know if the majority of nominees are, for example, TFA alumni—it is clear from our analysis that the majority of the recipients of the award have very close connections to the judges and their organizations. And while we explore the specific connections below, because the judges are so closely connected to the individuals that receive the award the Under30 serves as a mechanism through which judges are able to highlight the individuals and alums of their organizations.

Forbes 30 Under 30 in Education 13 recipients can, in turn, use the platform the Under30 award affords to further market and promote their specific brand of education reform. This process feedback loop becomes reciprocal. For example, Marcus Noel, who, having connections to TFA was awarded the Under30 in 2016, became a judge in 2017. Additionally, Joe Vasquez, a judge for the newly announced 2018 cohort of Under30, has direct connections to TFA and was, himself, a recipient of the award in 2017 when Kopp was a judge (Kopp was also a judge in 2018).

The paper goes on to describe the networks within which most of the awardees are embedded, the most prominent being Teach for America. Although TFA comprises less than 1% of teachers in the nation, TFA alums comprise 22% of the 30Under30 awardees. It helps that Wendy Kopp is often one of the judges of the competition.

The paper has some very illustrative sociograms that show the connections among the organizations, the judges, and the awardees.

They conclude:

Our findings suggest that the Forbes  Under30 award, its judges, and the growing network that the award creates both benefits from and reinforces social closure. The theory of social closure examines the myriad ways in which individuals and institutions are able to restrict access while simultaneously protecting the resources, power, and influence that members on the inside have and share among each other. If we believe the Under30 award to be a prestigious award, as Forbes suggests, then we should equally expect that those recommended for the award undergo a rigorous  Forbes 30 Under 30 in Education 19 and unbiased selection process. Yet, our findings suggest that the judges of the Under30 award systematically select individuals who are either directly associated with the organizations that the judges represent and/or those who share the same ideological commitments to education reform— ideological homophily. Such a reality is suggestive of an echo chamber where individuals within, or close to, the reform network are selected for the award as a means of self-congratulating the ideology fueling their reforms and, in short, self-congratulating the judges since the recipients of the awards largely come from the judge’s organizations.

In short, the 30Under30 competition is an echo chamber where the judges select members of their own or similar organizations and complete a closed circle. The judges use their influence to enhance their power and promote their proteges. In normal terms, this would be considered a conflict of interest.

Andrea Gabor is the Bloomberg Professor of Business Journalism at Baruch College, which is part of the City University of New York. Gabor has written insightful articles about education in the New York Times and at Bloomberg.com. She is the author of After the Education Wars: How Smart Schools Upend the Business of Education Reform.

The following is a summary of a chapter in her forthcoming book, MEDIA CAPTURE: HOW MONEY, DIGITAL PLATFORMS, AND GOVERNMENTS CONTROL THE NEWS, which will be published by Columbia University Press in June. She prepared this excerpt for this blog.

She writes:

For the past twenty years, American K-12 education has been on the receiving end of Big Philanthropy’s efforts to reengineer public schools based on free-market ideas, with foundation-funded private operators taking over large swaths of school districts in cities like Los Angeles and New Orleans.

Between 2000 and 2005 alone, three foundations—the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation—quadrupled their spending on K–12 education to $400 million. By 2010, the top 15 foundations had spent $844 million on public education.

Moreover, these Big Philanthropies coordinated their spending, investing in what Harvard’s Jal Mehta and Johns Hopkins’s Steven Teles call “jurisdictional challengers”—efforts aimed atupending traditional educational institutions, in particular public schools and school boards. Instead, the foundations funded a range of private and public institutions, including charter-management organizations and alternative teacher-development institutions such as Teach for America, as well as school-board candidates who would back the philanthropists’ reform agenda and help break the “monopoly” of public-school districts.

Diane Ravitch and a slew of other academics, bloggers and writers have documented the growing influence of Big Philanthropy and its convergence with federal education policies, especially under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, creating what the political scientist Sarah Reckhow calls “a perfect storm.”

As part of its soup-to-nuts strategy designed to maximize the impact of its gifts and expand its influence, Big Philanthropy has expanded its reach to universities, think tanks, government institutions, and the news media.

My chapter, “Media Capture and the Corporate Education-Reform Philanthropies,” in Media Capture, explores the efforts of the Big Philanthropy to shape public opinion by ratcheting up its spending on advocacy and, in particular, by investing in local news organizations. The philanthropies have supported education coverage at a range of mainstream publications—investments that often helped promote the foundations’ education-reform agenda. In addition, they have founded publications specifically dedicated to selling their market-oriented approach to education.

For the news media, battered by internet companies such as Craigslist and Facebook, which have siphoned off advertising revenue, funding from philanthropies comes at an opportune time. Nor can private foundations be faulted for supporting the news media, especially given the rise of “alternative facts” and demagoguery during the Trump era. Foundation funding has long been important to a range of respected news organizations such as The New York Times and National Public Radio, as well as established education publications, such as Education Week.This is not to say that this funding has unleashed a spate of pro-reform coverage. Indeed, I have published essays critical of the education-reform philanthropies in many foundation-funded publications. However, logic suggests that publications desirous of repeat tranches of funding will at least moderate their critical coverage.

What is particularly troubling are the large contributions to local news organizations—many of them earmarked specifically for education coverage—by foundations that explicitly support the takeover of local schools and districts by private operators. My chapter explores how philanthropic support of news organizations—including new publications founded and run by education-reform advocates—is aimed at creating a receptive audience for the foundations’ education-reform agenda.

The Gates Foundation’s effort to influence local and national policy via the news media is a case in point.

The Gates Foundation alone devoted $1 billion in the decade from 2000 to 2010 to so-called policy and advocacy, a tenth of the foundation’s $3 billion-a-year spending, according to an investigation by The Seattle Times.

Although much of that money went to analyze policy questions—such as the efficacy of vaccine-funding strategies—“the ‘advocacy’ side of the equation is essentially public relations: an attempt to influence decision-makers and sway public opinion.”

In 2011, The Seattle Times published an exhaustive article about its leading hometown philanthropic organization and asked: “Does Gates funding of media taint objectivity?” (At the time, the Gates Foundation also was bankrolling a slew of education policies, including the common core, and building political support for “one of the swiftest and most remarkable shifts in education policy in U.S. history.”)

The Seattle Times showed how the Gates Foundation funding goes far beyond providing general support for cash-strapped news organizations:

“To garner attention for the issues it cares about, the foundation has invested millions in training programs for journalists. It funds research on the most effective ways to craft media messages. Gates-backed think tanks turn out media fact sheets and newspaper opinion pieces. Magazines and scientific journals get Gates money to publish research and articles. Experts coached in Gates-funded programs write columns that appear in media outlets from The New York Times to The Huffington Post, while digital portals blur the line between journalism and spin.”

Indeed, Gates usually “stipulates” that its funding be used for reporting on issues the philanthropy supports—whether curing diseases such as HIV or improving U.S. education. And although Gates does not appear to dictate specific stories, the Seattle Times noted: “Few of the news organizations that get Gates money have produced any critical coverage of foundation programs.”

The Seattle Times story was written before the newspaper accepted a $530,000 grant, in 2013, the bulk of it from the Gates Foundation, to launch the Education Lab. The paper described the venture as “a partnership between The Seattle Times and Solutions Journalism Network” that will explore “promising programs and innovations inside early-education programs, K–12 schools and colleges that are addressing some of the biggest challenges facing public education.” The Gates Foundation contributed $450,000, with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation funding the rest.

In a blog post, the newspaper addressed the potential conflict of interest posed by the grant: “The Seattle Times would neither seek nor accept a grant that did not give us full editorial control over what is published. Generally, when a grant is made, there is agreement on a specific project or a broad area of reporting it will support.” The newspaper earmarked its funding for so-called “solutions journalism.”

It may be laudable for a publication to focus on “solutions” to societal problems. But almost by definition, a mission that effectively targets “success stories” diminishes journalism’s vital watchdog role.

Then too, Gates’s influence extends well beyond Seattle. The Associated Press documented the Gates foundation’s soup-to-nuts effort, in 2015, to influence education policy in Tennessee.

“In Tennessee, a Gates-funded advocacy group had a say in the state’s new education plan, with its leader sitting on an important advising committee. A media outlet given money by Gates to cover the new law then published a story about research funded by Gates. And many Gates-funded groups have become the de facto experts who lead the conversation in local communities. Gates also dedicated millions of dollars to protect Common Core as the new law unfolded.”

Meanwhile, the same year in Los Angeles, fellow philanthropist,Eli Broad, identified Gates as a key potential investor in his $490 million plan to dramatically grow the city’s charter-school sector. The plan included a six-year $21.4 million “investment” in “organizing and advocacy,” including “engaging the media”and “strategic messaging.” (The charter-expansion plan itself followed an $800,000 investment by a Broad-led group of philanthropists to fund an initiative at The Los Angeles Times to expand the paper’s coverage of K–12 education.) In 2016, Gates invested close to $25 million in Broad’s charter-expansion plan.

The Gates Foundation also served as a junior partner in one of the most audacious, coordinated efforts by Big Philanthropy to influence coverage of the education-reform story—the establishment, in 2015, of The 74 Million, which has become the house organ of the education-reform movement. The 74 has been a reliable voice in favor of the charter-school movement, and against teachers’ unions. In 2016, it published The Founders, a hagiography of the education-reform movement. And it has served as a Greek chorus of praise for the education reforms in New Orleans, the nation’s first all-charter district, while ignoring the experiment’s considerable failings.

Key contributors to the publication, which boasts a $4 million-annual budget, were the Walton Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Carnegie Foundation, and the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation. Soon after it’s founding, The 74 acquired a local education publication, the L.A. School Report, which itself had been heavily funded by Broad. In 2016, Gatescontributed, albeit a relatively modest $26,000, to The 74.

.

Gary Rubinstein is well known to readers of this blog, as I have posted almost all of his blogs. He is a career high school math teacher in the New York City public schools. I met Gary about ten years ago, when I had made a complete turnaround in my views about testing and choice. I was working on an article about “miracle schools” that fudged their data and discovered that Gary was an expert on reviewing school-level data and exposing frauds. He helped me write an article (“Waiting for a Miracle School”) that appeared in the New York Times in 2011, and he has continued to be a friend ever since. Gary’s analytical skills have been invaluable in fighting off idiotic “reforms,” like evaluating teachers by their students’ test scores (known as VAM). In his multiple posts on that subject, he showed its many flaws. For example, an elementary teacher might get a high score in reading and a low score in math, posing the dilemma of whether the district could fire her in one subject while giving her a bonus in the other. I confess that I am a person of The Word, and I have never taken the time to learn how to put graphics into my posts. I can’t even reproduce charts. I only do words. So when I need to post a pdf or a graphic or anything else that is not words, I turn to Gary for help and he is always there for me. In addition to being a math and computer whiz, Gary is an author. As most of you know, Gary began his career working for Teach for America. As he explains below, he became disillusioned with the “reform” spin just as I became disillusioned with the propaganda about testing and choice. Gary writes about how strange it is to be frequently attacked on Twitter and other social media by “reformers.” My admiration for him is boundless.

Gary writes:

I got into blogging almost exactly ten years ago, just after the Teach For America 20 anniversary alumni summit.  Until that time, I was unaware of the politics of education and the emerging education reform movement.  I had seen ‘Waiting For Superman’ and knew it was propaganda, but I didn’t quite understand who was benefiting from it or what the possible negative side effects of it could be.

But at that conference it became very clear to me what was going on during a ‘Waiting For Superman’ reunion panel discussion.  I watched as Michelle Rhee, whom I had known from years earlier when we worked together at the Teach For America training institute, and Dave Levin, who I had known for a lot of years from when we were teaching in Houston around the same time.  At the end of the conference, Arne Duncan made an odd speech about how great it was that he shut down a school and fired all the teachers and now it is a charter school in which every student supposedly graduated and got into college.

It sounded fishy to me.  Having worked, by that time, at three different schools that had low standardized test scores, I knew that a school can have good teachers but still have low test scores.  I suspected that there was more to the story than Arne Duncan was saying so I did my first investigation.  Little did I know that it would lead to a ten year adventure that would give me the opportunity to be an investigative journalist and help save the world.  As an added bonus, I made a lot of friends, got a following to read my writing, appeared on NPR and also on a TV show called ‘Adam Ruins Everything.’  But there was a downside to this attention because I also became a target of various known and unknown internet personalities who have attacked, ridiculed, and slandered me.  I think that on balance the good outweighed the bad, but it is sad to me that I have had blog posts about what an awful person I am and there have been podcasts about how I don’t believe in the potential of all children.  Students of mine have googled me and located some of these smears and asked me about them.  It’s hard to explain to them that I’m embroiled in a strange war where the FOX news of education wants to vilify me for telling the truth.

Here is a recent example where Chris ‘Citizen’ Stewart, the CEO of the Education Post website, compares my views with those of Charles Murray of ‘The Bell Curve’ fame.

I suppose my story is that I was the right person at the right time and in the right place.  The small group of resistors to the misguided bipartisan teacher-bashing agenda needed someone like me.  I was a Teach For America alum so I had that whole ‘war veteran against the war’ kind of credibility.  I was very patient and able to comb through state data.  I was a math major in college so I was able to do some basic statistics and make the scatter plots that helped the cause so much.  You may or may not know that I have slowed down a lot on my blogging.  After about 7 years of intense blogging, I started to burn out.  Fortunately other bloggers came on the scene and took up the cause and have been great.  I do try to blog from time to time still, but I have also been doing other projects, like my recent effort to explain all the essentials of elementary school, middle school, and high school math in one ten hour YouTube playlist.  These efforts come from the same source — the desire to help students learn.  Whether it is by fighting off a destructive element or in providing a free resource that anyone in the world can access, I am very proud of what I’ve accomplished in the last ten years.

I want to thank the great Diane Ravitch for taking me under her wing and for being a great mentor and friend.  I wish for her a speedy recovery from her surgery.

Here is a presentation I did at Tufts University describing my journey from teacher to crusader: