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Jeannie Kaplan served two term on the elected Denver school board. I asked her to explain the issues behind the strike.


She writes:



Posted on by Jeannie Kaplan


On April 24, 2008 the Denver Public Schools agreed to borrow $750 million dollars from some of America’s top financial institutions for its outstanding pension debt. As I write this blog this morning February 12, 2019 Denver’s teachers have entered the second day of their first strike in 25 years. The amount of money being contested is somewhere less than one-half of one percent of the overall DPS budget.  0.04%.  Less than $10 million out of $1.4 billion.  The following tells some of the complicated story that connects these two events.

The $750 million taxpayer debt was divided this way: $300 million was to pay back already existing pension debt, $400 million was to fully fund the DPS retirement fund.  The remaining $50 million went to legal and financial fees. By the time this transaction was “fixed out” in 2013 a veritable Who’s Who in the Wall Street world was involved:  RBC Capital Markets, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Citibank, Wells, Fargo, Bank of America. Part of the incentive to borrow this money was so DPS’ stand alone retirement fund could join the statewide retirement fund (Colorado Public Employees Retirement Association or PERA for short) which would in turn allow for more employee mobility into and out of DPS and would reduce DPS’ annual retirement contributions which would in turn provide more money for classrooms.  Because of previous financial miscalculations DPS was paying more per pupil for its retirement fund than any other school district in the state. Had this deal not been executed, the dollars paid to banks and lawyers could have been put directly into the DPS retirement fund itself. The DPS Superintendent at the time:  Michael Bennet. The Chief Operating Officer: Tom Boasberg.

Bennet and Boasberg came from the business world and were heralded as financial wizards. (They were boyhood friends growing up in Washington, D.C. together). Bennet had worked for billionaire Phil Anschutz and had already demonstrated a skepticism toward public pensions.  Boasberg arrived at DPS from Level 3 Communications, “an American multinational telecommunications and Internet service provider” where he was a mergers and acquisition guy.  Long story short they, along with bankers and lawyers concocted this very complicated and risky transaction using taxpayer money.  They were convinced that despite what was happening in the financial world at the time, DPS was going to save millions of dollars in pension costs.

Remember back to 2008. And remember we are talking about public, not private, money.  In February the auction rate securities froze.  In March Bear Stearns went under.  There were many indicators that something big could be going on in the world financial markets.  Nevertheless, in April the DPS board was encouraged to proceed with the high risk transaction which relied on the weekly LIBOR rate (it is the primary benchmark, along with the Euribor, for short-term interest rates around the world. Libor rates are calculated for five currencies and seven borrowing periods ranging from overnight to one year and are published each business day by Thomson Reuters.), swaps, (A swap is a derivative in which two counterparties exchange cash flows of one party’s financial instrument for those of the other party’s financial instrument. The benefits in question depend on the type of financial instruments involved.), bonds that were auctioned weekly.  And here is the headline from that deal.  In 10 years that $750 million loan has ballooned into twice as much debt  ($1.8 BILLION) and only for the past two years has the district begun paying any principal.  And simultaneously,  Bennet and Boasberg were able to convince the Colorado legislature that DPS should get the equivalent of “pre-payment” credit to deduct the PCOPs fees and interest from what would have been their normal pension contributions.  Because of these actions DPS employees have witnessed their pension fund drop about 20% from fully funded (100%) on January 1, 2010 to a little under 80% funded in June 30, 2018. But as Bennet and Boasberg would say as this defunding is occurring, “we are making our legal contributions, ” to which one must add, “Legal, but is it ethical?”

This story has become very relevant today because after 15 months of negotiations the district and the teachers have been unable to reach an agreement. Denver’s teachers have gone on strike over a compensation system called ProComp (Professional Compensation).  And the ProComp fight comes back to the pension.

In 2005 Denver voters approved a $25 million tax  (adjusted for inflation) for teacher pay-for-performance incentives.  A few thousand dollars was awarded for teachers who worked in hard to serve schools and taught hard to teach subjects.  The awarded dollars ($500-$2500) was intended to permanently raise base salaries.  It was reliable raise and it was PENSIONABLE.

In 2008 – hum, is this a coincidence? – the ProComp “bonus” went from a completely base building system to a yearly one-time bonus system.  And to further complicate matters, new bonus criteria (based primarily on high-stakes testing) have since been added. The result has been teachers cannot tell how much they will be making from year to year.  Some have said they can’t even tell how much they will make from paycheck to paycheck. Oh, and of course, these bonuses do not contribute to a teacher’s PENSIONABLE income resulting in…less retirement money  for retiring teachers, and simultaneously smaller demands on a dwindling pension fund.

While all this business bonus mess has been imposed in Denver, surrounding school districts have far surpassed Denver’s base pay scale, resulting in very high teacher turnover for DPS and a dwindling number of long serving professionals. Teachers are retiring earlier, teachers are leaving the district, and sadly teachers are leaving the profession. And because Denver is the quintessential reform district, DPS has been very welcoming to the reform idea of hiring short term, unlicensed educators with non-traditional training.  Think six week training programs.  The result of all this brilliance: fewer long serving employees resulting in less demand on a pension fund.  So the conflation of financial wizardry and education reform has hit Denver: businessmen Bennet and Boasberg take over the finances of a public school district, concoct a complicated and risky scenario during an unstable financial time, get the legislature to allow the defunding of the pension, implement a bonus based pay system to replace base-building, and voila – a strike by Denver’s teachers for a fair, reliable, sustainable pay system.

One more important headline. ProComp bonuses for teachers range from $500-$3000 per category per year. Last month a list of administrative bonuses without a rubric as to how the money has been awarded became available:  the current COO (Boasberg’s first job in DPS) received a $34,000 (!) bonus on top of his $198,000 salary, an “IMO executive principal” got $36,900 on top of his/her $130,000.  An IMO executive principal is the newest layer of reform administration.  He/she oversees a network of innovation schools (non union schools overseen by the district) and makes two to three times as much as a DPS teacher.  There are approximately 10 such positions with each person gathering around $20,000 in bonuses. These bonuses are not part of the ProComp agreement but rather come out of the DPS general fund.  Just imagine.  You could save almost half of the 8 million dollars they two sides are bickering over if you just eliminated these positions and the bonuses.

We must never end any story about Denver Public Schools without a reference to educational outcomes, for isn’t the first priority of a public education system educating its students? After 15 years of education reform brought by Michael Bennet and Tom Boasberg, 42% of Denver’s students are proficient in English Language Arts and 32% proficient in math.  Bennet and Boasberg  financial actions have also contributed to the doubling of the pension debt, and their policies have resulted in the first teacher strike in 25 years in Denver.  Quite a legacy left by the boys from D.C.



Mitchell Robinson, professor of music education at Michigan State University, saw an article that he found alarming.

The article to which he objects appeared in GQ (Gentlemen’s Quarterly).

The article begins:

As Pam cracks the door to the front office, her hand creeps to the gun strapped at her hip. She’s in her 40s, with dark-rimmed glasses and a ponytail poking through the back of a baseball cap. At five foot six, she is not an imposing presence, but then again, what kindergarten teacher is?

She peers inside and sees a parent—Mr. Brown, who she’d heard was locked in a custody dispute with his ex-wife—shouting at Betsy, the school secretary, something about how he wants to see his son. And then he takes out a pistol of his own and holds it right up to her head.

Pam is lucky; Mr. Brown doesn’t notice her. She draws, her elbows locking out as her eyes settle between the sights. But in the split second before her index finger depresses the trigger, she hesitates. I have to try, right?

“FREEZE!” she shouts.


Mr. Brown murders Betsy and swings the barrel toward Pam, cursing.


Pam sends a bullet into him, and he staggers back; a second round to his chest, and he crumples to the ground. She exhales, unsure what to do next, standing over two lifeless bodies when there could have been one.

Just another day at school for a busy kindergarten teacher.

Robinson’s response:

If you’re a teacher who reads all of this and thinks, “Well, that’s not me. I’m different. I’ve had a gun for years. I’m a hunter, and a responsible gun owner. I’m all about gun safety. I was in the military. I just want to protect my students and colleagues”, then you are precisely the kind of person who should never be permitted to have a loaded weapon in a school. You’re exactly the sort of person that shouldn’t be allowed to carry a deadly weapon into a room full of children looking at you as someone who cares about their learning, and their well-being.

If you really and truly believe that the best way for you to protect your students is with a gun, then please quit your job immediately, enroll in a police academy, get properly trained and prepared to use a weapon in live-action situations–not by a 1 day “professional development seminar,” like we pretend to train and prepare teachers to do all sorts of things we don’t really value enough to do the right way (like “blood borne pathogens training,” and “sexual harassment prevention training,” and “court-mandated reporter training.” ProTip for Teachers: if the PD session you’re sitting through has the word “training” in its title, no one in the Central Office really cares if you actually learn how to do the thing you’re being trained on–it was either an unfunded mandate from the state education department and/or legislature, or your superintendent thought it would “look good” if parents and other school budget voters saw teachers were being given that training.)–and get out of the classroom.

Linda Lyon, recent President of the Arizona SchoolBoards Association, describes the low funding and legislative hostility that has created a teacher shortage in Arizona. The legislature’s answer to the teacher shortage: lower standards to fill empty classroom.

Pay is not the only reason teachers are fleeing classrooms. They also cite inadequate public respect and increased accountability without appropriate support. In Arizona specifically, contributing factors include 25% of our certified teachers being retirement eligible, a grading system for schools that still relies heavily on standardized tests, a GOP-led Legislature that is very pro-school choice if not openly hostile to public district education and their teachers, and the lack of respect for the teaching profession demonstrated by the dumbing down of teacher qualification requirements.

Arizona began this dumbing down in 2017. According to, since the 2015–2016 school year, “nearly 7,200 teaching certificates have been issued to teachers who aren’t fully trained to lead a classroom. In just three years, the number of Arizona teaching certificates that allow someone to teach full-time without completing formal training has increased by more than 400 percent according to state Department of Education data analyzed by The Arizona Republic. For the 2017–18 school year, that added up to 3,286 certificates issued to untrained teachers and by 47 days into the 2018–2019 school year, 1,404 certificates had been issued to untrained teachers while 3,141 were issue standard certificates.”

That last 1,404 certificates issued for the current school year is probably the most instructive, because this is after the 10 percent raises for teachers the #RedforEd movement garnered in 2018. So, less than one-third of the way into the school year, the state has issued almost half as many certificates to untrained teachers as the entire previous year. In other words, despite the 10% pay increase, Arizona districts are having even more difficulty attracting professional teachers into their classrooms.

You read that right. Kansas is a state that has cut taxes and cut its education budget repeatedly and whose teachers are paid poorly. It is under court order to finance its schools adequately. You may recall that former Governor Sam Brownback imposed a far-right policy of cutting taxes to “grow the economy” while starving the schools and other public services. The experiment failed. Trump appointed him the
“Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.”

So now, because of low salaries, Kansas has teacher shortages. The remedy? A lavish contract with TFA to bring in temp teachers.

The Kansas Legislature agreed to pay education nonprofit Teach For America more than $500,000 this year for a pilot program to recruit 12 teachers to the state.

But the national organization only recruited three teachers for the state in 2018. All of them were placed in Kansas City, Kansas, where the local school district pays their salaries and benefits on top of another $3,000 per teacher per year to Teach For America.

Meanwhile, the state is still on the hook to pay the nonprofit $270,000 for training and recruiting teachers with no guarantee they will work in Kansas schools.

Mischel Miller, director of teacher licensure and accreditation at the Kansas State Department of Education, said the contract was intended to help fill a teacher shortage in the state.

“Our intention,” Miller said in an interview, “is that those dollars would be used for Kansas teachers.”

Yet the Kansas City, Kansas school district says it only hired three Teach For America instructors this year. Two other recruits started teaching in the district last year before Kansas hired the organization.

The state education department says Teach For America told the department it recruited all five of those teachers this year. The department is currently drafting a $270,000 contract to pay the organization.

A budget document from the Kansas Legislative Research Department dated Oct. 10 states, “Teachers will be paid a salary of $36,000.” But that money actually goes just to recruiting, training and placing each teacher.

That totals $180,000 from the state for recruiting five teachers, plus $80,000 to pay for the salary, benefits and travel expenses of a recruiter and $10,000 for one day of professional development. The rest of the money appropriated during the legislative session, totaling $250,000, will go back to the state’s general fund to be appropriated for the next fiscal year.

The AltSchool opened with high hopes. It was going to revolutionize education (you have heard that one before, haven’t you?). The school was designed by a former Google executive. Every student would have his or her own laptop. It was entrepreneurial and innovative, and investors poured millions into the idea. The schools would be “learner-centric,” with each student moving at his or her own pace. Mark Zuckerberg was one of the investors. What could possibly go wrong? Almost everything.

This is a story of a teacher, Paul France, who wanted to be part of the dream. He left his teaching position to join the AltSchool team and was featured in many of the articles about the chain.

AltSchool was flooded with applicants willing and able to pay tuition of $30,000 or more for their children to attend, and became one of the hottest start-ups in educational technology; to date, it has raised more than $170 million in investment. It was part of a broad investor rush to ed tech. Last year, venture-capital investors put $2.7 billion into ed-tech companies, up from $1.6 billion in 2016, according to CB Insights, a software company that examines technology trends. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the Netflix founder Reed Hastings, and the Gates Foundation have given millions of dollars to schools implementing technology-based personalized learning—many of them urban charter schools serving low-income children.

But in the midst of all the excitement, there’s little strong evidence that classroom technology, including personalized learning, is improving educational outcomes. A 2015 report from the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development found that countries that invested heavily in computer technology for schools showed “no appreciable improvements” in reading, math or science, and that technology “is of little help in bridging the skills divide between advantaged and disadvantaged students.”

AltSchool was not the only venture that relied heavily on screens.

Another school network that has been using technology and personalized learning for years in an effort to eliminate the achievement gap, with mixed results, is the RocketShip chain of charter schools, which serves low-income Latino and African-American students, mostly in and around San Jose. It has won credit for pushing up test scores but has also been criticized for its heavy reliance on computer-based instruction.

At Rocketship Los Sueños in San Jose, students spend 30 to 60 minutes a day on laptops in their classroom and another 90 minutes in the Learning Lab—a large room where kids sit at long tables, wearing headphones and working on laptops, supervised by classroom aides. On a visit last June, I found that few things broke the silence: when kindergartners filed in from recess; when a staff member pulled kids out for testing. Students scarcely talked and when they did, or their attention drifted too far, they were admonished. “Stephanie, focus,” Nicki Muñoz, a supervisor, said. “Yuridia, sit up.” She counted down—“8, 7, 6, 5, 4”—when it was time to switch from one software program to another. The kids looked zoned out, with blank expressions on their faces. Ninety straight minutes on computers is “way too long,” Munoz told me. “Kindergartners will focus for 15 minutes.” Some kids get dizzy or have problems with their vision, she added.

Presently, the article says, more than a dozen charter and private schools, along with four school districts in California, are using AltSchool’s technology. But Paul France became disillusioned and left the venture to return to teaching in a traditional school.

Only in the “reform” world would an app with such limited adoption be considered a noteworthy achievement.

Read how Paul France became disillusioned by the heavy emphasis on screen time.

He spent the past year teaching at a traditional private school that’s been around for a century and, in his view, sees the “value in using a plain old notebook and pencil to engage in the writing process.” He still uses technology when it’s appropriate. His class last year did a project on Chicago neighborhoods and visited many. Since they couldn’t get to all of them, they used Google Earth to virtually walk through several. “I’m not anti-technology but I’m definitely for minimizing it,” France says. “You use technology to remove a barrier. And the question always should be: Is the tech in my classroom going to preserve or enhance human connection?”

The article actually gives a brighter portrayal of AltSchool than is deserved.

My friend, the diligent researcher and parent advocate Leonie Haimson, sent the following corrections to this article:

The company closed its Palo Alto school and shelved plans to open more of its own schools in favor of providing its platform to more partners.

Yet AltSchool closed 3 schools not one, one in Palo Alto , one in SF and one in the E. Village in NYC, as reported Nov. 3, 2011 in WSJ.

“…Leaders of AltSchool said Friday they were closing three of their seven private schools, including an elementary site in Manhattan’s East Village, so they can concentrate on developing their software platform for districts to purchase.. .We have finite resources,” said Max Ventilla, the company’s founder and chief executive. “Closing a school is an incredibly hard and painful decision for everyone involved.”… The company is closing one school in San Francisco and one in Palo Alto as well. Remaining next fall will be two in California and two in New York City.

The Atlantic writer also repeats uncritically this claim – that “AltSchool was flooded with applicants willing and able to pay tuition of $30,000 or more for their children to attend” which I doubt very much.

See many previous articles about problems w/ Alt School, many of which they quote the same teacher Paul France:

Edsurge announcing closings on Nov. 6, 2011:

Parent discontent and pulling out in Business Insider: Nov. 21, 2017, 6:00 AM

At a September birthday party attended by numerous parents, one mother told us she’d pulled two children out of the program and placed them in a neighborhood public school; the rest of the parents in attendance said they were actively working to place their children elsewhere next fall. The biggest reason they cited was that their kids are falling behind academically. One mother, who asked not to be named, told us that in addition to paying yearly tuition of roughly $30,000, “We’re all spending a fortune on tutoring to supplement what our kids aren’t learning.”

Next day in Tech Crunch

Compounding their anger these days is AltSchool’s more recent revelation that its existing network of schools, which had grown to seven locations, is now being pared back to just four — two in California and two in New York.

And again in January in ed surge says they are trying to sell their faulty software to other schools – why would they buy considering the failure of Alt School?

Today the startup announced its first two public school partnerships, Arcadia Unified School District located in Los Angeles County and Menlo Park City School District in the San Francisco Bay Area….But being an AltSchool partner is not free, districts do pay a price. Arcadia, which has a three-year contract with the platform, will be paying approximately $5,000 per teacher in exchange for the use of AltSchool’s personalized learning platform, class coaching, IT support and professional development opportunities. According to AltSchool representatives, most partner districts will be paying the $5,000 per teacher per year for the first year of training and onboarding support from AltSchool. After the first year, the price is around $2,500 for the use of the platform and ongoing support from the company.

Now supposedly many public school districts have bought into this crap, at least according to the school PR:

Education startup AltSchool, one of the leaders in the movement to individualize instruction using technology, said today that it will expand to serve 19 new partner schools in 2018-19. In addition, AltSchool will continue to serve its six existing partner schools, including two public schools that began piloting its technology in 2017-18….

Partners range from private schools serving affluent communities similar to AltSchool’s own lab schools, to public schools serving low-income communities. Vodicka, a former superintendent, hopes to positive results in each new school environment. “The first groups of teachers are finding that they’re saving time and able to better develop better relationships with their learners as a result,” he says. “That’s leading to higher levels of learner engagement overall.”

In addition, there is this article in Education Week, saying that AltSchool is closing and consolidating schools so it can focus on its investors’ priorities, which is software development.

Personalized-learning pioneer AltSchool is closing one of its private schools and consolidating several others, moves the company describes as “tough choices” necessary to pursue unexpected new business opportunities and demonstrate to investors the viability of its long-term plan to sell software to K-12 public schools across the country.

“Closing any school is painful,” AltSchool founder and CEO Max Ventilla said in an interview. “But ultimately the path for the company to be sustainable and impactful is to provide the platform we’re developing to schools we don’t directly operate.”

AltSchool was founded in 2013. The company has been backed with more than $175 million in venture capital from such Silicon Valley luminaries as Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Laurene Powell Jobs of the Emerson Collective. It currently runs seven of its own schools, which typically charge more than $25,000 per year in annual tuition. Those schools also serve as laboratories where AltSchool can pilot, test, and improve its technology, which seeks to merge the insights of top-flight engineers and progressive educators into a platform that can be used to better understand how every child is developing and tailor students’ learning experiences accordingly.

AltSchool’s closure of its Palo Alto campus, first reported by Bloomberg Technology, will affect about 65 families. The company’s six remaining schools will be consolidated into four sites—two each in New York City and in San Francisco, where the company is headquartered.

Several dozen parents at AltSchool’s Palo Alto campus signed an online petition saying they were “shocked and saddened to hear of the plans to close our school,” in just its third year of operation.

Critics described the move as a sad, but not surprising, example of a deeper challenge faced by the ed-tech sector at large, and the personalized-learning movement in particular.

Many such ventures “involve grand experimentation on students in order to develop and sell products to other schools,” said Audrey Watters, an independent researcher who maintains the popular Hack Education blog.

“So much of what these companies do is really for their investors, and that really dictates the kinds of decisions that get made,” Watters said.

Ventilla expressed frustration that AltSchool, which previously received criticism for focusing its attention on private schools serving mostly wealthy families, is now taking flak for choosing to prioritize efforts to serve a broader universe of more diverse students in the public-school sector.

Sometimes teachers complain that their schools have too many regulations, too many routines.

This music teacher, a professional violinist who signed up to teach in a charter school in Arkansas dedicated to the arts and dear to the heart of Alice Walton, learned about the perils of teaching in a school where everything was deregulated and there were no routines.

Someone thought that a school where decisions are made on the fly and teachers are always on their own was a good ideal maybe this was someone’s idea of innovation.

No, it was not innovative. It was chaotic. It was abusive in the eyes of this teacher. It was disorderly and unpredictable.

Don’t the arts require practice and discipline? Can teachers flourish when there is no respect for them?

Who thought that an atmosphere of chaos and disrespect was a good idea?

The article begins:

“When I started teaching orchestra at Arkansas Arts Academy High School last fall, I didn’t know much about the state of public education in Arkansas. My entire career — 15 years — had been spent as a performing violinist: concertmaster of the Fort Smith Symphony, concertmaster and principal viola with the Arkansas Philharmonic Orchestra, composer/director of Storybook Strings, and a freelancer with touring groups like “Book of Mormon” and Harry Connick, Jr. I also had a long history of teaching private lessons, with a background in the Suzuki method.

“What I did NOT have was an Arkansas teacher’s license, or any previous training to become a public school teacher.

“That’s okay!” the principal assured me. “We’re a charter school. We have waivers from teacher licensure requirements, as long as you have a bachelor’s degree and relevant professional experience!”

“Cool,” I thought. “I know music. I teach music. I can learn everything else on the job.” So I signed up to teach, half-time, trusting in the experience and good faith of my administration and fellow teachers to help me learn the ropes.

“The school didn’t give me a contract until 41 days after I was hired. It was my fourth day of teacher in-service before I found out what my salary would be ($21,187.50) or what employment terms I had signed up for. And those employment terms? They were incredibly vague.

“My contract said “190 half-days,” and “at-will employment.” It also mentioned “a waiver granted by the Arkansas Department of Education” that made Arkansas Arts Academy “exempt from certain laws relating to schools, including specifically many of those relating to employees.” But I trusted the school’s good reputation — I had a friend who taught there, and knew families who sent their kids. Plus, what musician wouldn’t root for the success of an arts academy?

“I should have been more careful. If I had gone to the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) website, I would have learned that the “waiver” in my contract was actually a LOT of waivers, and the ADE grants new ones all the time. Currently, Arkansas Arts Academy High School has 51 waivers in effect, including teachers’ rights to planning periods, duty-free lunches, limitations on before- and after-school duties, and the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act. Arkansas Arts Academy is also exempt from having to provide written personnel policies*** to its employees, which means that there is no handbook telling us how to access our classroom funds, what to bring for fire drills, how to interact with the parent organization, or who to talk to if we need help.

“In the absence of state oversight, and without written personnel policies, things quickly became chaotic.”

The teachers of Los Angeles have authorized a strike. As you will see in this article by LA parent Carl Petersen, negotiations remain stalled.

The district claims it can’t afford to settle with its teachers. This having raised Board Member salaries by 174% and paying its new superintendent a base salary of $350,000 (supporters of former investment banker Beutner originally said he would take no salary).

One of the richest cities in the nation claims it can’t pay its teachers or provide the services children need. Yet LAUSD managed to find an extra $1 billion for JOHN Deasy’s iPad Fiasco.

Cue the world’s smallest violin.

And this:

“As previously stated, Superintendent Beutner has no professional experience or training in the field of education. UTLA leadership is comprised of people who are education professionals. Yet Beutner has stated that deciding “what tests students take” is not something that the LAUSD “would, should or could bargain with labor over.” “Under a UTLA proposal, teachers would be required to give only the standardized tests required under state or federal law”.

“While the union proposal is a step in the right direction, it does not go far enough. Under state law, parents have a right to opt their children out of all standardized testing. Unfortunately, LAUSD teachers are not allowed to inform parents of this right. By instituting an opt-in system, all parents would be informed of their rights before their children were forced to take these tests.”

Why does the investment banker think he knows more about testing than teachers?

EdWeek has a good article about the number of teachers who are running (or ran) for office this year. I guess the slogan is, “If you can’t persuade them, run against them.” According to the article, 158 educators filed for state offices.

In Oklahoma, 64 teachers ran for office. 37 lost their primary; 15 won; and 12 were unopposed. In Kentucky, 20 teachers ran for office, and only five lost their primary.

Teachers have figured out that they have to be “in the room where it happens” (to paraphrase the song from “Hamilton”).

The National Education Association has helped novice candidates. Good for NEA!

Through its See Educators Run program, a series of trainings for NEA members seeking local or state-level office, the nation’s largest teachers’ union is tapping into this political moment.

The organization hopes to create a “candidate pipeline” for members, said Carrie Pugh, NEA’s political director. “[We felt] like our voices weren’t being represented.”

For many of these first-time candidates, the union offers a gateway into the messy world of politics.

NEA launched the program in 2017, but the number of applications nearly doubled after this spring.

See Educators Run has held three trainings since 2017 and graduated about 200 educators. Any NEA member who is running for office, or considering a run, can apply for a space, and the program is free for participants. The two-day program was designed to cover the basics of running a campaign “soup to nuts,” said Pugh.

While See Educators Run is nonpartisan, Pugh says that the program seeks out candidates who are “values-aligned”: supportive of funding for public schools, collective bargaining rights, and accountability measures for charter schools. The NEA also requires that local unions sign off on candidates’ applications, as affiliates share the cost of training with the national organization. Training facilitators have backgrounds in politics: They’ve worked on campaigns or for organizations like Emily’s List and Emerge that train Democratic candidates to run for office.

Topics ran the gamut from high-level strategy (how do you craft a campaign message?) to the granular details of social-media communications (how often should you post to your candidate Facebook page?).

In one session, candidates learned how to devise a field plan for their race, calculating their vote goals and the number of volunteers needed to meet them. Parts of the process read like algebra homework: If one volunteer can knock on 15 to 20 doors an hour, and you need to knock on 1,021 doors, how many volunteers do you need to sign up for two-hour shifts?

“I knew that you had to look at registered voters and things like that,” said Thomas Denton, a retired teacher from Kentucky considering a run for state legislature. “But exactly how to crunch those numbers is what’s being answered here.”
Several candidates said fundraising would be their biggest challenge.’

Know campaign-finance law inside and out, trainers told the candidates: Research the legal limits for how much individuals can contribute and the contribution filing deadlines.

In sessions, participants paired up to practice cold-calling for donations. The big takeaway? Make a clear, specific ask—even if it’s uncomfortable.

Kyla Lawrence, an assistant principal in North Little Rock, Ark., who plans to run for a seat in the state’s house of representatives in 2020, said she would have to mentally prepare to make a lot of those calls, especially to bigger donors. As a teacher, it often feels “like you don’t have the financial status to play in this arena,” she said.

Candidates were also encouraged to reference the #RedforEd movement, which became a clarion call for educators during statewide strikes this spring, while campaigning. Trainers encouraged them to talk about collective action with constituents—especially other educators—and wear the trademark bright red shirt at town halls.

The message that campaigns should champion public education resonated with Carol Fleming, a speech-language pathologist in Little Rock, Ark., who plans to run for a seat in House District 38 in 2020.

But she won’t be mentioning #RedForEd by name in her campaign, she said. In Arkansas, ” ‘strike’ is a word that you do not use.”

For many candidates in attendance, this spring’s statewide strikes were inspiring but not necessarily the catalyst for running.

Lakilia Budeau, the director of a youth-services center for Paducah public schools in Kentucky, said protests across her state reinforced her notion that she could govern better than the legislators currently in office. But she had already thought about a run for state representative before this spring.

“I’m just tired of [legislators] not having their students’ and families’ interests at heart,” she said.

Candidates said the union’s role in their campaigns wouldn’t end after they left the training.

Several plan to count on their local associations as major sources of volunteer and financial support.

Greg Windle, a journalist at The Notebook, has drawn together the many strands of the tangled web of Reformer groups in Philadelphia, as seen through the lens of a contract awarded to The New Teacher Project for principal training. TNTP, Michelle Rhee’s creation, was designed to hire new teachers. When did it develop an expertise in training principals? Were there no veteran educators, no one in the Philadelphia School System, capable of training new principals? Or were they recruiting principals who had been a teacher for a year or two?

As Windle gets deeper into the story of a contract dispute about hiring TNTP to train principals, a familiar cast of money-hungry Reform groups washes up on the beach.

“Marjorie Neff, a former School Reform Commission chair who voted against the TNTP contract to recruit and screen teachers, said that in her experience such national education vendors use an approach that is “formulaic” and doesn’t tailor well to the needs of an individual teacher or the “context” of teaching in Philadelphia, where a teacher’s needs are different than in the suburbs. Neff is a former principal at Samuel Powel Elementary and J.R. Masterman who earned a master’s degree in education from Temple University.

“They’re selling a product. From that perspective, their formula is their vested interest,” Neff said. “Their bottom line is profitability, and we need to take that into account. Is it the most effective way to do this, or is it the most profitable? I don’t think those necessarily have to be in conflict, but sometimes they are.”

“In 2017, TNTP reported that its expenses were $20 million higher than revenue. In 2016, its revenue was nearly $21 million higher than expenses, but this was entirely due to the $41 million it brought in from “all other contributions, gifts, grants” (excluding government grants). That pot includes grants from outside philanthropies, such as foundations, but also investments from venture capital firms. In 2015, the nonprofit lost $6.1 million, despite millions in outside funding.

“Shifting funding, but consistent ideology

“Bain Capital’s consulting firm has two members on the board of TNTP. Since 2009, Bain’s consulting arm has partnered with Teach for America to develop “high-impact leaders in education” by placing TFA alumni in “leadership” positions in public education. Together, TFA and Bain designed “a series of programs to inspire, prepare, match and support Teach for America alums on the path to leadership.” Bain aimed to bring leadership development practices from the private sector into public education.

“In 2012, the two organizations got together to “expand the scope of work” of their partnership — the same year that Teach for America founded School Systems Leaders to train TFA alumni to “serve at the highest levels of leadership in public school systems.”

“Matt Glickman, an employee of the Bain consulting firm and board member of TNTP, has also served on the board of the NewSchools Venture Fund. That fund has invested in free-market education reforms since 1998. The Sackler family – whose fortune is based on profits from Purdue Pharma, developer of OxyContin – decided to invest heavily in the fund.”

When will education be returned to educators?

Anyone advocating for edupreneurs should be fired. As Neff said quite well, these national vendors are in it for the money.

Linda Darling Hammond writes that arming teachers and expelling students will not make schools safer. It might make them dangerous.

“In response to the rash of school shootings in the United States, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is now considering allowing states to use federal funds to put guns in schools, training and arming marshals and teachers.

“The Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants (under Title IV of the Every Student Succeeds Act) are intended to expand and improve student learning, not to buy guns. They are used by school districts for implementing school-based social, emotional, and mental health services and support as well as dropout prevention programs. They are used to help ensure that students from low-income families have access to technology as well as to advanced coursework, and college and career counseling. In short, these funds are intended to help to create schools where all students are seen, supported, and valued.

“Siphoning off those funds to put guns in schools won’t make students safer and it won’t improve academic achievement. In fact, in school shooting incidents, 95 percent of attackers were current students at the school and of those, 71 percent said that they felt persecuted, bullied, threatened, attacked, or injured by others prior to taking action. By contrast, in schools that focus on social-emotional learning and offer mental health supports, evidence shows that students feel and are safer, interpersonal relationships are stronger, bullying and fighting are reduced, and achievement and graduation rates are higher. Where students are supported and taught to be caring and responsible, these students can be helped, protected, and redirected to productive futures.”