Archives for category: Teach for America

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:

Gary Rubinstein revisits the past decade of failed reforms and notes how frequently the “reformers” made promises and then failed to keep them. Michelle Rhee came on the national scene, appearing on the cover of TIME, then disappeared after helping to sink the mayor of D.C. who hired her. Michael Bloomberg and Joel Klein claimed that under their leadership, there was a “miracle” in New York City, but the miracle disappeared when they and their public relations team left office. Jeb Bush touted a Florida “miracle,” but Florida remains mired in the depths of mediocrity when assessed by NAEP. Laurene Powell Jobs promised to “reinvent” the high school and handed out $100 millions to the schools she chose; many failed soon after. We await the “miracle.” Even Betsy DeVos claimed to be “rethinking” school, wondering why we needed public schools at all; now she is busy spreading millions to charter and voucher advocates in the red states.

Gary concluded his review of all the rethinking, reinventing, and rebranding by taking a close look at a school hyped by TFA. He looked at the numbers, and lo and behold, no miracle there.

In this “model” school, the kids are faring poorly:

OK, “So what,” you say, “only 1.1% of their 10th graders passed the science test and 2.7% of their 10th graders passed the math test. What matters is ‘growth.” Well in that department they didn’t fare so well either.

He concludes:

Usually it’s a lot harder than this. They often pick a school that has artificially inflated test scores due to attrition. Keep in mind, this is the school Villanueva Beard chose to highlight. One of the lowest performing schools in test scores and growth in the state of Indiana.

Whether they are ‘rethinkers,’ ‘reinventers,’ or ‘reimaginers’, a reformer by any other name still doesn’t know anything about schools.

The burning question is: When will the billionaires who fund “reform” and “reinvention” decide to stop funding failure?

I recently interviewed Raynard Sanders, a veteran educator in New Orleans, about his new book The Coup D’etat of the New Orleans Public Schools: Money, Power, and the Illegal of a Public School System.

You can watch it here.

He spoke at length about the blatant racism involved in the takeover and privatization of the city’s public schools. The state leaders (white) had been eager to find a reason to seize control of the district, which had a majority black school board. Ray says that the state commissioner cooked up a tale about missing millions of federal dollars. This same commissioner obtained an audit that showed there were no missing millions, but he continued to keep the story alive to undermine confidence in the elected school board. When the hurricane devastated the city, it was the perfect excuse for the white elite in the city and the state to grab control of the schools, their budget and their personnel. The hurricane became a rationale for firing the mostly African American staff, which was the backbone of the city’s black middle class, and replacing them with young white Teach for America recruits. It is a sobering interview.

I recently received a copy of Hillary Clinton’s policy book, assembled for her by her most trusted advisors in 2014. This policy book was released in 2016 by Wikileaks after it hacked into John Podesta’s emails. The education section begins on page 156. Clinton’s lead education advisor was Ann O’Leary, who is now chief of staff to California Governor Gavin Newsom.

Let me say at the outset that if I had read this brief before the 20116 election, I would have been disappointed and disheartened, but I still would have voted for Hillary Clinton over Trump. Despite my disagreement with her education advisors and plans, she was still 100 billion times better than Trump. Maybe 100 zillion times better.

Her education advisors came right out of the Bush-Obama bipartisan consensus that brought up No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and the Common Core. The brief tells us that this wing of the Democratic party, which was in the ascendancy during the Obama administration, is an obstacle to improving American education. After thirty years of promoting charter schools and billions of dollars spent increasing their number, it is obvious that they are not a source of innovation, transparency, or accountability. The charter sector is a problem, not a solution. They have not brought great ideas to public schools; instead they compete with public schools for students and resources. Anyone who is serious about education must consider ways to help and support students, teachers, and communities, not promote schemes of uneven value that have opened the public purse to profiteers, entrepreneurs, religious zealots, and corporate chains.

What the brief teaches us is that the Democratic party is split between those who are still wedded to the failed bipartisan agenda that runs from Reagan to Clinton and those who understand that the Democratic party should commit itself to equity and a strong public school system that serves all children.

The education section of the policy brief makes for sobering reading. (It begins on page 163.) O’Leary wrote the education section of the policy brief. Among the “experts” cited are billionaire Laurene Powell Jobs and Bruce Reed of the Eli Broad Foundation. Among the policy papers is a statement by Jeb Bush’s spokesperson Patricia Levesque, recommending Jeb’s horrible ideas.

To sum up the recommendations:

  1. The brief lauds charter schools as a solution to the nation’s low academic performance (only a year earlier, CREDO had released a report saying that only one of every five charter schools outperforms public schools).
  2. The brief excoriates colleges of education and their graduates. It calls for Clinton to “professionalize teaching” by embracing TFA. TFA is likened to Finland as a model for finding excellent teachers. The brief does not mention that Finland would never admit teachers who had only five weeks of training into their classrooms. Every teacher in Finland goes through a multi-year rigorous program of preparation.
  3. The brief contends that tests should be “better and fewer” but should not be abandoned. Jeb Bush and Florida are cited as a model.
  4. The brief says: Don’t shy away from equity issues: While the root cause on inequity in our schools is still disputed – with reformers focused on the in-school availability of good teachers, good curriculum and rigorous course offerings and the unions focused on the challenges faced by teachers who are asked to find solutions to problems that stem from poverty and dysfunction in the community – there is an agreement that our public school system is one of the root causes of income inequality in our country, and that you should not be shy about calling it out and demanding we work to fix the inequities inside and outside the school building. [sic]
  5. Support the Common Core standards, which were already so toxic that they helped to sink Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign. The brief says: Stand Up for the Common Core. There is strong agreement that we need high academic standards in our public school system and that the Common Core will help us to be more globally competitive. There is recognition, however, that the implementation of Common Core and the interaction with the testing regime has made many supporters nervous (including Randi Weingarten). However, all agree that you must stand for common core while working on the real challenges of how to implement it in a way that supports teachers. 
  6. The brief holds up New Orleans as a dramatic success, when in fact its greatest achievements were busting the teachers’ union, firing the entire teacher force (most of whom were African American, and turning public schools over to charter operators. We now know that about half of the charter schools in New Orleans are considered “failing schools” (ranked D or F) by the state’s own metrics, and that New Orleans is a school district whose scores are below the state average, in one of the lowest performing states in the nation. Hardly the “success” that should be hailed as a model for the nation.

Ann O’Leary interviewed Laurene Powell Jobs as an “expert” on education. One of Jobs’ strong recommendations is to reconsider the value of for-profit entrepreneurs.

Instead of just looking at the deficits of these schools, consider it a huge opportunity for transforming learning. Beginning to see some of this work in Udacity, Coursera – and we should be doing more of making the best in technology available to support students in getting skills and credentials they need. 

More from education expert Mrs. Jobs:

Re-Design entire K-12 system – know how to do it, but it comes down to political will. Public schools are a huge government program that we need to work brilliantly b/c it could change everything and be the thing that reduces income inequality; but we are stuck in system right now 

 Think about Charters as our R&D – only 5% of public schools still – MUST infuse ideas into the public school system, it is the only way – must allow public schools to have leaders that can pick their team and be held accountable; take away categorical funding, allow them to experiment and thrive 

 Need to increase IQ in the teaching sector: Teach for America; they are a different human capital pipeline – if Ed schools could be rigorous, highly esteemed, and truly selective like TFA and Finland, we’d see a different kind of teaching profession that would be elevated. Right now we have mediocre students become teachers in our classrooms; 

 Need transformation in our pipeline – Ed Schools should be like Med Schools – need to compensate teachers accordingly from $45K to 90K – have a professional union – like SAG; like docs and lawyers that have professional unions – individual contributors can negotiate; scientists and mathematicians; Teachers shouldn’t have to take a vow of poverty 

 Need to use technology to transform – technology allows teaches and children to focus on content mastery versus seat time; get to stay with your age cohort, but you have a “learn list” and “dashboard” set up to help you reach the needed content skills. This is happening with Sal Kahn and schools in Bay Area – need to learn from it and grow it. 

 Need to call out and address the inequities – Huge differential between what is taught in higher income and lower-income schools; the top 50 college admissions professionals in US know which high schools have rigor embedded; in low-income schools, kids top out and cannot get more; black 12th grader curriculum/school equivalent to 8th grade curriculum for white student 

Then Ann O’Leary interviewed “education expert” Bruce Reed, president of the Broad Foundation, but with zero experience in education:

 Hillary’s initial instincts still hold true – that choice in former [sic] of charters, higher standards and making this a center piece of what we do as a country – nation of opportunity – still all true, nothing has changed; turned out to be even more true than it was 30 years ago 

 Challenge of education reform: school districts are pretty hard, if not impossible, to reform – they are another broken part of democracy b/c no leader held accountable for success or failure; no one votes on school board – don’t’ know who it is; sups not elected; mayors don’t want to be involved. 

o New Orleans is an amazing story – when you make it possible to get political dysfunction and sick a bunch of talent on the problem – it’s the one place where grand bargain of charters has been kept the best 

 Problem with Charters as R&D: 

o Traditional system – less incentive and less freedom to do things in different ways – big part of charter success is to pick staff you want and pick curriculum you want – don’t have anyone to blame if you are failing; principal is ultimately accountable, but in traditional system principal is often without any power 

o Critical mass…. Get to certain tipping point and rest of the system and will follow – New Orleans – if you create the Silicon Valley of education improvement, which is what New Orleans has, you can get there; but the central office must let go of thinking it knows how to run schools; Denver does it, letting go of micromanagement on curriculum, instead do transportation and procurement….pro charter; pro portfolio system for public schools. 

o Critical mass…. Get to certain tipping point and rest of the system and will follow – New Orleans – if you create the Silicon Valley of education improvement, which is what New Orleans has, you can get there; but the central office must let go of thinking it knows how to run schools; Denver does it, letting go of micromanagement on curriculum, instead do transportation and procurement….pro charter; pro portfolio system for public schools. 

Ed Johnson is a persistent, tireless advocate for systemic improvement of the Atlanta Public Schools. As a systems analyst, he opposes school choice, which helps some and hurts others.

He wrote the following letter to the Atlanta School Board after watching the Inauguration ceremonies on January 20:

20 January 2021

Inauguration 2021: “America United” and “a Union with Purpose”

“America United

Joseph R. Biden

President, United States of America

…a Union with Purpose…

Amanda Gorman

National Poet Laureate

Dear Atlanta Board of Education members:

We the people will have neither an “America United” nor “a Union with Purpose” as long as you continue to help pursue the ideological folly of school choice and charter schools with the aim of gradually but surely destroying public education and public schools.

The prayer and hope now is that each of you will reach into the deepest recesses of your heart and soul and extract any remnants of wisdom you find there that will lead you to understand that school choice and charter schools ideology is folly and absolutely contrary to there ever being an “America United” existing as “a Union with Purpose.”

The prayer and hope extend to you also finding the wisdom in your heart and soul to let go foolish Black racialist ideologues, such as one Howard Fuller, so that you may start living up to your sworn Oath of Office to uphold the Atlanta Independent School System as the public good it is supposed to be.

You swore, in part:

In all things pertaining to my said office, I will be governed by the public good and the interests of said school system.”

However, your chairman and known Teach for America alum and Howard Fuller acolyte, Jason Esteves, recently intimated his election to the school board constitutes a mandate to impose his adherence to Black racialist ideology à la Howard Fuller upon the public good that is the Atlanta Independent School System. 

School choice and charter schools ideology is not of, by, nor for the public good.

Neither is Black racialist ideology à la Howard Fuller and similar others.

Rather, school choice and charter schools ideology is of, by, and for private interests.

And so is Black racialist ideology à la Howard Fuller.  Witness the demise of Fuller’s Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) after private interests cut off their money flow.

If you were to strive to fulfil your sworn Oath of Office, then maybe, just maybe, the Atlanta Independent School System, which is more commonly known as Atlanta Public Schools, will stand a good chance of becoming a public good with a purpose.

Right now, the Atlanta Independent School System has no purpose of its own.

Rather, the system has any number of default purposes, where, at any given moment, a default purpose will manifest as any coordinated number of purposes of any number of private interests.

Naturally, in keeping with school choice and charter schools ideology, the relatively new APS Office of Partnerships and Development and the relatively new APS Office of Innovation function, essentially, to steer the Atlanta Independent School System always toward soliciting, aligning to, and sustaining the purposes of varied private interests that aim to supplant public interests.  

So, should you need prayer assistance with reaching deep into your heart and soul to find requisite wisdom essential to we the people ever having an “America United” existing as “a Union with Purpose,” much such assistance is generally available.

You only have to reach out and ask for it.

Ed Johnson

Advocate for Quality in Public Education

Atlanta GA | (404) 505-8176 | edwjohnson@aol.com

Tom Ultican has written extensively about the insidious goals of “reformers,” who move forward despite multiple failures because of their billionaire funding.

In this post, he reviews the Biden education team, which is not yet fleshed out. He wrote this post before the announcement that Cindy Marten, the Superintendent of Schools in San Diego, was selected to be Deputy Secretary. This will be the first time in history that the top two jobs in the Department of Education were held by people who were actual educators with classroom experience. He added a comment about Superintendent Marten.

Tom Ultican defines the unanswered questions:

Joe Biden has chosen a person with an education background to lead the department of education but his experience running large organizations is almost non-existent. He was assistant superintendent of a school district with less than 9,000 students from 2013 to 2019. He then became Education Commissioner of Connecticut. That system serves less than 530,000 students. His primary strength seems to be he has not engaged with the controversial education issues of the day like “school choice” and testing accountability.

Which begs the question, will the Biden-Harris administration support and revitalize public schools or will they bow to big moneyed interests who make campaign contributions? Will Biden-Harris continue the neoliberal ideology of “school choice” or will they revitalize public schools? Will they continue wasting money on standardized testing that only accurately correlates with family economic conditions or will they reign in this wasteful practice?

Tom Ultican added:

Update added 1/19/2021: Today, Cindy Marten was nominated by Joe Biden to be Deputy Secretary of Education. I have met Marten a few times and believe she is a special kind of leader committed to public education. This gives me great hope. For the first time, we have two educators with deep k-12 experience running the Department of Education. This article from the San Diego Union gives a good synopsis of her education career. In his announcement Biden noted, “Superintendent, principal, vice principal and literacy specialist are all job titles Marten has held in her 32-year career as an educator.” The appointment makes me think the Biden administration may become the best friend public education has had in Washington DC since the Department of Education was created. Of course, Marten does not walk on water but from my perspective she is the real deal.
– tom

Well, that didn’t take long!

The Biden administration has selected a TFA person for one of the plum jobs in the White House.

At least half a dozen individuals recently appointed to positions in the White House include those with teaching experience and others who have worked with education-focused organizations. While several have most recently worked on the Biden-Harris campaign — and didn’t necessarily jump straight from the classroom into government — they’ll still have direct knowledge of issues that matter to both teachers and parents.

The incoming White House staff, for example, includes Kaitlyn Hobbs Demers, who taught fifth grade in the Gwinnett County Public Schools in Georgia and spent 2013 and 2014 advising Teach for America “corps members” and interviewing future candidates. Demers has been appointed special assistant to the president and chief of staff for the Office of Legislative Affairs.

The director of policy at DFER (Democrats for Education Reform), which consists of hedge funders who oppose teacher tenure and advocate for high-stakes testing, expressed his pleasure at the appointment.

I wonder if the Bidens know that TFA is a favorite recipient of gifts from the anti-union, anti-public school Walton Family Foundation.

In a post from 2019, Mercedes Schneider reviewed the spectacular career of a TFA “reformer” who became a star in Nevada, briefly disappeared, then resurfaced with a cushy job in the booming IDEA charter chain in Houston (Betsy DeVos’s favorite).

Alison Serafin flourished in Nevada when there was a Republican Governor. She was vice-president of the state board. She launched a start-up called Opportunity 180 to foster charter schools. She resigned from the state board in December 2015 since her Organization was seeking state funding. In April 2016 her Opportunity 180 won a $10 million grant to being high-performing charters to Nevada.

Opportunity 180 was supposed to create the Nevada Achievement School District, modeled on Tennessee’s failed program.

By 2017, Serafin resigned, and her name was scrubbed from the website of the organization she founded.

Not to worry. Now Serafin works for IDEA in Houston, which has big plans for expansion.

Reformers fail upwards.

A new reader to the blog posted her own recipe to describe “reform,” which has an unfortunate habit of failing again and again but being revived by Betsy DeVos and/or Bill Gates and the Walton Family:

Sandy Dixon Forrest Recipe for sucking in public tax money and making obscene profits on the backs of public school teachers and students: FINANCE inappropriate “standards” to be implemented by all teachers, REQUIRE the use of products which financially benefit the creator of the “goals,” SMILE as hired “cheerleaders” tout the benefits of the mandated program, BEAM proudly as profits roll into the companies producing the “magic” solution, CRINGE privately at dismal results, REWRITE the “cheerleader” script, AND THEN…drum roll, please.. BLAME the teachers for disappointing results of the non-educators’ (but obscenely wealthy) magic elixir to cure the problems of all public school students. RESULTS?! The sponsors of this hoax made buckets of money! Wave goodbye to the career teachers; TFA folks are cheaper and more (desperate) cooperative anyway. Don’t worry about the kiddos; just give them a double dose of grit. It’s all good…right?

 

In this brief video, Dr. Leslie Fenwick, former dean of the College of Education at Howard University, explains why the “schemes” of corporate reformers always fail. She doesn’t hold back about charters, vouchers, Broad superintendents, and Teach for America.

The video is part of a series of hundreds of interviews of educators, conducted by former teacher Bob Greenberg. He calls his series the Brainwaves Video Anthology. After you watch Dr. Fenwick’s wonderful interview, you should browse his collection. It’s very impressive.