Wednesday, April 20, 2011

On Education In Public School Efforts, a Common Background: Private Education

With his latest biased, error-filled hatchet job in today's NY Times, Michael Winerip has sunk to a new low – and that's saying something, given that I long ago labeled him the worst education reporter in America (there really is no close second – he's in a category all by himself; for more on why I say this, see and


In today's article, after an in accurate and simplistic preamble, Winerip exposes, in dramatic and scornful fashion, that a handful of people associated with efforts to reform our K-12 public education system went to – I hope you're sitting down – PRIVATE high schools!  Oh, what a high crime!  How indefensible!  How DARE such people criticize the existing system when they, for at least four years of their K-12 education, went to a private school!? 


Winerip doesn't have the courage to actually assert something so totally stupid, so instead he does what all gutless weasels do: he makes the accusation by asking it as a question (example: "Is it true that Michael Winerip is the worst education reporter in America?Your call."):


Those who call themselves reformers are a diverse group, men and women of every political stripe and of every race and ethnicity.


But there is one thing that characterizes a surprisingly large number of the people who are transforming public schools: they attended private schools.


Which raises the question: Does a private school background give them a much-needed distance and fresh perspective to better critique and remake traditional public schools? Does it make them distrust public schools — or even worse — poison their perception of them? Or does it make any difference?


Your call.


Following is a list of some of these national leaders and the private schools they attended:


The most important response to this article is, WHO CARES?!  As one of my friends pointed out, "I'd be more concerned if ed reform leaders spent their professional careers working in private schools and now are dabbling in public schools than where they went to school when they were kids."


Secondly, Winerip provides zero evidence that the leaders of the ed reform movement uniquely or disproportionately went to private high schools.  As Andy Rotherham points out: "The always constructive Michael Winerip notes that some proponents of education reform went to private school.  Unmentioned? Many others didn't.  You could, of course, go through the same exercise for critics of reform and journalists. The article is a pointless exercise in rhetoric and divisiveness that's beneath the New York Times."


I'd be curious to know how Winerip came up with his list of leading education reformers who attended private high school.  Could it be that he went on a fishing expedition to try to prove a preconceived notion?  Bingo!  A bit of brainstorming, emailing and Googling yielded the following leading education reformers who graduated from PUBLIC high schools:


·        Wendy Kopp, Highland Park High School in Dallas, Texas.

·        Joel Klein, William Cullen Bryant High School in Queens, the first in his family to go to college.

·        Mike Feinberg, Oak Park and River Forest HS in Oak Park, IL.

·        Cory Booker, Northern Valley Regional High School at Old Tappan, NJ.

·        Evan Rudall, CEO of Uncommon Schools, Kenwood Academy, "a public high school that serves approximately 2,000 students on the south side of Chicago.  Of more than 700 students in my freshman class, fewer than 350 graduated together four years later."

·        Norman Atkins, CEO of TeacherU and founder of Uncommon Schools: "I graduated from Evanston Township High School (Evanston, IL), a public HS that was very diverse.  There were one thousand students in my graduating class.   In elementary school (K-5), I was bussed across town to attend a non-selective "lab" school in a predominantly black neighborhood.  All three of my children attended Montclair Public Schools in Montclair, New Jersey, from grades K-12."

·        Caprice Young, CEO of Inner City Education Foundation (a charter network in LA) and former CEO of the California Charter Schools Association and President of the LA school board and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools: "Public K-12 including magnets and alternatives and traditional-- all public.  I was graduated by King High School in Tampa Florida."

·        Gloria Romero, head of DFER-CA, former state senator, "Public-- from K- PhD!!"

·        Steve Barr, former CEO of Green Dot, all public schools, "son of a waitress and was a foster child for a year."

·        Eva Moskowitz, Success Charter Network, graduated from Stuyvesant.

·        Peter Groff, head of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, former CO state senator, graduated from Denver East High School.

·        Howard Fuller, former Superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools and Chair of BAEO, North Division High School in Milwaukee.

·        Jay Mathews, Washington Post, best education writer in America, author of Escalante and Work Hard Be Nice, public school in CA.

·        Andy Rotherham, Eduwonk, EdSector, PPI, Bellweather Education, etc., public high school.


Steve Brill, who Winerip mentions in the article and thinks has no right to comment on school reform, writes: "I attended Queens NY public schools -- PS 104 and IS 198 -- for 9 years then won a full scholarship to Deerfield for 4 years."  Winerip thinks THIS disqualifies him from writing about school reform?!


Now, turning to the article itself, let's go through it line by line:


- Ten years ago, the No Child Left Behind bill was passed by the House of Representatives, 384 to 45, marking the first step toward a major transformation of public education in America. The law has ushered in what its supporters like to call the "reform movement."


Response: The passage of NCLB did NOT usher in the reform movement.  I'm not even sure it was a seminal event, though it was important.  Though it's certainly open to debate, I'd argue that two far more important events took place far earlier, the creation of TFA and KIPP.


For the first time, human bias was removed from student assessment and replaced with scientific accountability systems.

No longer did teachers' subjective opinions of children distort things. Scores on standardized tests became the gold standard.

No longer did a person with a clipboard have to spend days observing a school to determine whether it was any good. Because of the law, it is now possible for an assistant secretary of education to be sitting in his Washington office and, by simply studying a spreadsheet for a few minutes, know exactly how a school in Juneau is performing.


Response: This is a simplistic and silly caricature.  NOBODY thinks that test scores are the be all and end all – good tests (and there are a lot of bad ones) are merely one (important) tool to evaluating teachers, schools and how much students are learning.


- The New York City Department of Education, a pioneer in the science of value-added assessment, can now calculate a teacher's worth to the third decimal point by using a few very long formulas.


Response: The DOE doesn't claim to be able to "calculate a teacher's worth" based solely on its value-added system.  It's one tool of many it's using to try to better evaluate teachers.


- in 2007, Whitney Tilson, a hedge fund manager and Democratic fund-raiser, founded Democrats for Educational Reform to help his party catch up. By all accounts, it has worked.


Response: Thanks for the compliment (but no picture?!).  DFER is indeed making a huge impact.  But I was only one of a handful of founders and I'm quite sure that I don't rank in the top 1,000 Democratic fundraisers in the country.


- …Race to the Top. This program rewards states with hundreds of millions of dollars in grants if they develop systems to rate teachers based on their students' test scores and if they agree to fire teachers and principals based on those scores.


Response: As I show on page 107 of my school reform presentation (below; the full presentation is at:, RTTT is a comprehensive program that Winerip (as usual) wrongly describes in a simplistic and inaccurate way):



- [Michelle Rhee] is education's Sarah Palin.


Response: Winerip slipped this smear past his editors because, yes, they are both high-profile women who evoke strong feelings by both their supporters and critics.  But there's a HUGE difference: Rhee is really smart and capable!  By the way, Winerip is so sloppy and clueless that he called Rhee's organization "Sunshine First"! (This was fixed in the online edition, but still appears in the caption of the photo, below.)


- Jeb Bush (Phillips Andover), the former governor of Florida and the founder of the Excellence for Education Foundation, is responsible for making Florida a pioneer in the accountability movement by issuing report cards for every school based on test results. In the process he had to overcome many obstacles, including how to explain why his state's rating system was so badly out of whack with the federal government's rating system. One year the state report cards gave two-thirds of Florida's schools A's or B's, while the federal system rated two-thirds of Florida schools as failing. As a result, there was widespread confusion among parents who couldn't tell if their child's school was succeeding brilliantly or failing miserably.


Here's Bush's response:


Our grading system was set up before NCLB existed. The A-F grading system was the one that parents focused on because of its transparency and it had been around longer. There was no confusion. Rather than game the system to make more schools "proficient" under NCLB, we did the opposite with one benefit being more school choice and allowing parents access to tutoring dollars. 


The best measurement of success was the NAEP scores where we went from 29 out of 31 states in four grade reading the year before our grading system was implemented to 6 out of 50. The greatest gains have been poor and minority students.


In a way, he [Winerip] makes the argument for universal school choice.  These folks have more in common than just going to a private school, they share a common purpose for providing a quality education.  Perhaps that's because they recognize that their education shaped their lives and was a big part of making them successful.  If all kids had their options, public schools would feel the pressure to reform themselves to be competitive in an open market, rather than have reform forced upon it which is the unfortunate case now.


- Chester E. Finn Jr. (Phillips Exeter) is the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution, two of the country's leading conservative research groups. Mr. Finn is the scholarly counterpart of Ms. Rhee. Early on, he supported the privatization of public education, the use of vouchers and the development of a national core curriculum, which could possibly mean every public school would be teaching the same thing at the same time. His recommendation for reforming the public school system: "Blow it up and start over."


Here's Checker's response:


Yes, I went to Exeter after 9 years in the Dayton Public Schools. I'm flattered to be the "scholarly counterpart of Ms. Rhee". I find his middle sentence absolutely weird, both because I've never recommended the "privatization of public education" (though I think choice should include private schools and I think outsourcing has some merit) and just about everyone else I know 'on the right' finds the idea of a national core curriculum to be part of a LEFT WING PLOT! Moreover, what sort of "conservative" wants to "blow it up and start over"?? I'm a radical, yes, more than I'm a conservative, at least when it comes to education policy.


As for the "blow it up" comment, Winerip (of course) takes it out of context.  Here's a link to the article ( and here's the full quote, where Checker is simply talking about radical reforms vs. Ravitch's naïve, nostalgic proposals:


But Mr. Finn has reached sharply different conclusions from Dr. Ravitch.


"Diane says, 'Let's return to the old public school system,' " he said. "I say let's blow it up."


- David Levin (Riverdale Country School, the Bronx) is a co-founder of KIPP, the nation's biggest charter chain.


Response: Notice how Winerip fails to mention that the other co-founder, Mike Feinberg, attended a public high school.


- Merryll H. Tisch (Ramaz School, Manhattan), chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents


Winerip can't even spell her first name correctly: it's Merryl.  Yet another example of his sloppiness.


- "Waiting for Superman," the widely acclaimed 2010 film that championed charter schools and dismissed traditional public schools as dropout factories.


Response: Yet another simplistic and inaccurate description.  The movie highlighted the fact that SOME traditional public schools are dropout factories, which NOBODY disputes.


On Education

In Public School Efforts, a Common Background: Private Education

Published: April 17, 2011

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