Thursday, April 28, 2011

Meet the Samburu warriors in NYC on May 5th

PS—If you're in NYC on May 5th, I hope you can join me at one of two events for a charity I'm on the board of, The Thorn Tree Project, which supports education for the nomadic Samburu people, who are cow and goat herders in one of the most remote parts of the world in northern Kenya. I am hosting a lunch on Thursday, May 5th, and there will also be a fun gala that same evening (details below).  There's no charge or donation required to attend either event.


At these events, you will be able to meet four Samburu warriors who are in NYC for the first time ever.  They made the Wall Street Journal last week (see the first picture below), and I posted a video of them singing and dancing at an evening event in Soho I attended at:  They are really worth seeing.  Below are additional photos from last week as well as my trip to visit the Samburu a few years ago.


The Thorn Tree Project was founded nearly a decade ago by my friend Jane Newman (in picture #3 below), who spent her career on Madison Avenue as an advertising executive and entrepreneur before moving to Kenya.  After her car broke down in the tiny village of Sereolipi and she was stranded for a few days, she met Chief George (in pics 2-5) and was compelled by his vision to better educate his people so they could survive the onslaught of modernity.  The Samburu people live today almost the same as they lived hundreds of years ago, with no electricity, running water, or modern health care.  However, with the construction of a new road, they are now dealing with issues of alcohol, AIDS, etc. and need to be prepared to deal with the outside world.  The only way the Samburu will survive is if at least some of their young people get a decent education.


When Jane started The Thorn Tree Project, the overall literacy rate among the Samburu was 2% and only 120 children were in the two K-8 public schools serving the region.  Scores on the 8th grade national test were dismal – averaging 180 on a 500-point scale; a 300 is the minimum for going to decent high school – and not a single Samburu student that year graduated from high school, the minimum requirement for any kind of job in Kenya like serving in the military, working for the government, or becoming a teacher. 


The Thorn Tree Project has invested in the schools by hiring additional high-quality teachers, building dormitories (the students can't live at home because the villages are always moving, following the cows to new grazing areas), digging wells, installing a water system, and buying camels to provide milk so the children aren't hungry.  The results have been remarkable: today, 1,300 students are in the two schools, average test scores have nearly doubled, and 90 students are in high school (and even a few in university and technical schools) on full scholarships.


The lunch will be from 12:00-2:00 pm on Thursday, May 5th at the offices of my friend Bill Ackman of Pershing Square Capital Management (who has been the single biggest supporter of The Thorn Tree Project), 888 7th Avenue (at W. 57th Street), 42nd Floor.  To RSVP, please email my assistant Leila at


In addition, there will be a really fun gala that evening at Donna Karan's fabulous Urban Zen in the West Village, 711 Greenwich St. (invite at the end of this email).  You can expect a phenomenal silent auction with amazing items to bid on, a fabulous African bazaar full of wonderful things from Kenya, and a bar with snacks.  There will also be the opportunity for you to buy desks, beds, mosquito nets and camels for the schools in Kenya.  The event is always lots of fun and you are pretty much guaranteed to walk out with a bargain.  The room is huge and we want to fill it, so please bring people with you.  Dress is casual.  No need to RSVP – the more the merrier.


I hope to see you!


Best regards,



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Why and how Eli Broad is giving billions away

Here's a link to the well-deserved glowing profile of Eli Broad on 60 Minutes tonight:  The full transcript is at the end of this email.  My favorite line:

"I believe in two things: One, Andrew Carnegie said, 'He who dies with wealth dies in shame.' And someone once said, 'He who gives while he lives also knows where it goes,'" Broad told "60 Minutes" correspondent Morley Safer.


Why and how Eli Broad is giving billions away

60 Minutes, 4/24/11

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Why the education reform movement is in trouble

Richard Whitmire, author of The Bee Eater, thinks education reform is in trouble.  I don't think so (in part for reasons RiShawn Biddle outlines below), but he makes some points:

Based on recent headlines, this would appear to be a glorious year for education reform. After years of wheel-spinning debates, governors in states such as Florida, Connecticut, Indiana and Ohio are blazing fast tracks trying to turn around troubled school districts.

To ensure the best new teachers are those who stay in teaching, governors are redefining tenure. To rid schools of truly awful teachers, they are imposing realistic teacher evaluation systems. And when those evaluation systems uncover truly effective teachers, they propose to reward them with higher salaries. Heady stuff, right?

That's not how I see it. My sense is that the school reform movement — roughly defined as those who believe that schools alone can make a dent in the seemingly intractable problems arising from the confluence of race and poverty — is headed toward a major beat-down.

Why the pessimism? I'm watching Ohio Gov. John Kasich make one of the most boneheaded moves I can imagine, trying to solve his budget problem by trimming back union collective bargaining privileges while simultaneously imposing school reforms.

…This new education/political chemistry has bubbled up to the White House. Although President Obama started off in a promising reform direction — Secretary Arne Duncan's Race to the Top carrot incentives are the best federal reforms we've ever seen out of Washington — Obama himself recently retrenched.

Testing is "boring" and needs to be cut back, Obama declared at a town hall meeting in Washington late last month. Interesting timing the president chose to shoot his own school reforms in the foot — just as a newly energized, anti-testing labor movement, enraged by the Wisconsin challenges to collective bargaining, promises to play a major role in the next presidential election.


Why the education reform movement is in trouble


By Richard Whitmire, The Daily Caller, 4/19/11

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You Can’t Defend a Failed Vision of American Public Education

While reformers may have some issues, RiShawn Biddle correctly argues powerfully that those defending the status quo are facing an impossible task: defending the indefensible (he mentions Bill Gates and me briefly – quite an honor – LOL!).  Time and history are on our side: as MLK once said, "the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice."

Why are school reformers succeeding in winning the policy battle for overhauling American public education while defenders of traditional public education practices failing? There are those who argue it is about the triumph of high-profile media plays and money over the rightfulness of ideas. But is that really so?

…defenders of traditional public education are not winning the high ground. Why? As Dropout Nation has argued, the anti-intellectualism rampant among ed school professors, school superintendents and other traditionalists is part of the problem. (Yesterday, Contributing Editor Steve Peha offered his own explanations.) But these are not the only reasons. School reformers are winning the day because they have the clear moral argument for reform. What status quo defenders are backing is a vision of American public education that in practice, has been a failure for children, families, taxpayers and even teachers alike.

…What defenders of the status quo seem not to understand is that for many school reformers, transforming education is as much a moral imperative as it is an intellectual pursuit and even an economic livelihood. In fact, for many, the moral reasons for school reform matter more than the money. Which is also why traditionalists struggle to offer a coherent counter-argument. It's easy to question the motives of a Bill Gates or a Whitney Tilson, or worse, paint them as greedy profiteers (when, in all honesty, neither are making a profit off of any of this). But the Teach For America alumni working in a classroom or running a tutoring program is another matter entirely. Same is true for the mother who is also a school choice activist, or any of the parents demanding their proper seats at the head of the table of education decision-making.

…These men and women are indignant about the reality that 150 young men and women drop out every hour into poverty and prison. They are distressed that millions more languish in school ill-prepared for an increasingly knowledge-based economy in which even high-paying blue collar jobs require strong math and science skills. They are outraged that millions of good-to-great teachers aren't rewarded for their work while millions of mediocre-to-abysmal colleagues continue collecting paychecks. They are incensed that families — especially those from poor white and minority households — are treated shabbily by teachers and administrators who mistaken condescension for consideration. And they are mad, plain mad, that it can be as haphazard to get high-quality curricula and instruction now as it was during the Great Depression eight decades ago.

They don't need Bill Gates to show them that. They don't need to watch Waiting for 'Superman' either. You can see the failures of American public education every day on street corners, in prisons and on unemployment lines. A generation of men and women are left out of the economic mainstream because the low quality of education they received no longer works in a knowledge-based economy — and another generation is being left behind now because they never got a good-quality education in the first place. This is not all the fault of traditional public education; the quality of education in the main was suited well for an old school industrial age that has dissipated into the ether. But there is no reason why our schools have continually failed generations of poor and minority children, nor is there an excuse for refusing to overhaul how schools  operate in order to educate the kids coming through the corridors now.

For these reformers, it isn't enough to be mad. They want to take action. It doesn't mean that they agree with one another on all formulas for reform. In fact, they often spar and parry over what school choice should look like, how to hold players in education accountable for student achievement, even over whether the NEA and AFT should even have a role in education decision-making. But they all agree on this: American public education as it currently exists is mediocre at best and abysmal for least of us — and that nibbles around the edges are no longer enough. In an age in which data is transforming how we work in the world, there is no reason why its disruptive power cannot be used for improving how recruit teachers, evaluate schools, and educate kids. And, to paraphrase Joel Klein, the world will conspire against us if we do not make public education fit for all of our children.

This isn't to say that defenders of traditional public education aren't concerned about any of this. Nor can anyone say that they don't care (or think they care) for the lives and futures of children. It is that the solutions they offer — much of which are nothing more than rehashed versions of every formula tossed around since the advent of the comprehensive high school — haven't worked. It is that they would rather tinker around the edges than confront their allies — including the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers — about how they continue to protect low-quality and incompetent teachers. They chastise the quality of school leadership and yet fail to realize how the practices they defend — from instruction focused on useless pedagogical theory, to reverse-seniority layoff policies — contribute to the problem. Their dogmatic belief that poverty is the root cause of educational underachievement is a cop-out in an age in which there are great examples of schools, traditional, charter and private, who are helping kids reach brighter futures.

What they defend is an amoral system that chews up children — especially young black, white and Latino men — and spits them out into the street. What they support is a system that bases the quality of education on zip code — and does all it can to keep it that way. What they back is a public education system that is no longer fiscally sustainable in its current form — and spending plenty of money for little benefit to children or taxpayers alike. And what they favor is a vision of public education that is impoverished, impotent and ill-fit for the future.

So how can you expect to win the day with something like that?


You Can't Defend a Failed Vision of American Public Education

April 22, 2011 No Comments by RiShawn Biddle

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Charter School Space: Free of Rent, Maybe, but Not of Hurdles

Here's Winerip's latest column, which I assume will appear in tomorrow's NYT.  Instead of his usual smears against all charters, this time he goes after the biggest charter networks in NYC, especially Eva Moskowitz and the Success Charter Network, for supposedly benefitting from favoritism relative to one-off charter schools in the city:

Rent is not something charter chains worry about. KIPP, the nation's biggest (99 schools) and richest ($160 million in corporate grants over the last four years) chain, pays no rent for its seven charter schools in the city. Nor does Eva Moskowitz, who has opened seven Success Academy charters in Harlem and the Bronx. Achievement First has 10 charters in Brooklyn that do not pay rent, and Uncommon Schools has 12. Citywide, 67 percent of chain charters receive free space in public school buildings, compared with 51 percent of independent schools.

The first sentence had my jaw in the floor: "Rent is not something charter chains worry about."  I know with 100% certainty that finding space is a NIGHTMARE for EVERY charter school in NYC!  So on what basis does Winerip assert this absurd lie?!  Apparently this factoid that he must be so proud of finding: "Citywide, 67 percent of chain charters receive free space in public school buildings, compared with 51 percent of independent schools."  But by itself, this statistic doesn't prove bias toward charter schools that are part of CMOs; perhaps they're applying for schools in areas in which there is more space available (which, in fact, the article alludes to).  Or maybe they're more effective in working with the bureaucracy?  But maybe there is bias – but if it's the right kind of bias, then we should be celebrating it.  Maybe the CMOs have, overall, more of a proven track record of delivering for kids?  Could the DOE under Klein have actually have had a preference, in awarding space, for schools that were being launched by people and organizations that had consistent track record of delivering spectacular schools for children?!  I sure as hell hope so!!!  This is apparently a high crime, according to nitwits like Winerip.


At least Winerip includes this quote from Seth Andrew (a thin veneer of impartiality that I suspect his editor forced upon him):

Seth Andrew, founder of three Democracy Prep charter schools, has some of the best middle-school test scores in the city, along with an extraordinary demand for places in his schools — 5,000 have applied for 250 seats. He would like all his classrooms in public buildings, but half are in private space, which costs him about $1 million a year.

Mr. Andrew believes space is so hard to get because the state's charter law creates too many barriers and provides no funding for finding sites for charters; the teachers' union repeatedly files lawsuits delaying the process; and the city's response to space requests is slow. "Good schools, bad schools, big networks, standalone schools" face the same hurdles, he said.

Lastly, it's almost comical to see Winerip try to create a scandal out of some emails between Klein and Moskowitz (ones that have been public for a LONG time, by the way).  He fishes through dozens (hundreds?) of emails to find the most sinister emails – and comes up with bupkis.  Eva wishes him happy birthday and this is evidence of their close relationship that leads to favorable treatment?!  Winerip is so pathetic…  At least he included this final line of his article (again, no doubt forced upon him by his editor):

Asked whether he did special favors because of a close relationship with Ms. Moskowitz, Mr. Klein wrote, "I say with neither pride nor regret that I am not personally close to Eva. Our relationship was entirely professional. We worked together to support things that I believed were in the best interests of our kids, and at times, she was a complete pain in my neck."


On Education

Charter School Space: Free of Rent, Maybe, but Not of Hurdles

Published: April 24, 2011

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Keep intact the mission of choice program

The indomitable, incomparable Howard Fuller, who was a key person in bringing the nation's first voucher program to Milwaukee, with a powerful op ed on why he opposes Gov. Scott Walker's plan to make vouchers universal (meaning available to rich people too).  He's exactly right: vouchers/tax-credit programs need to be carefully targeted to low and moderate income families who don't have school choice currently:

It was not easy for me to stand before the state Legislature's Joint Finance Committee and threaten to withdraw my support from the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, which I have supported for more than 20 years. But if lawmakers approve Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to lift the income requirement that has maintained the program for children from low-income families, that is exactly what I will do.

The governor's plan would dramatically change the program's social justice mission and destroy its trailblazing legacy as the first and still one of the few in the nation that uses public dollars to help equalize the academic options for children from low-income and working-class families. I did not join this movement to subsidize families like mine, which may not be rich but have resources and, thus, options.

When I got into this battle in 1989, standardized test scores showed Milwaukee was failing to educate poor black children. That's when state Rep. Annette Polly Williams courageously stepped forth to make sure that poor families were afforded some opportunity to choose schools in the private sector for their children. She shepherded the pioneering voucher program through the Legislature.

Since then, I, along with many others, have fought tirelessly for parental choice for low-income families throughout the nation. The governor's plan would turn Milwaukee's program into something it was never designed to be.


Keep intact the mission of choice program

By Howard Fuller

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NYC Teachers Union Plays Race Card Against Progressive Teachers Group

One of the leaders of the UFT in NYC, Leo Casey, recently played the race card against TFA, which is both shameful and ridiculous, as TFAers are 40% minority!  40% of Harvard's graduating black seniors applied to TFA – and Casey is saying THIS?!

Leo Casey, vice president the New York City United Federation of Teachers, seems to believe that TFA is somehow bad because too many of the teachers are white. The film clip of his comments comes from EAGtv:

The teaching force in New York City has become steadily whiter under [Mayor Michael] Bloomberg and [former schools Chancellor Joel] Klein and it is connected I think in significant measure to the use of groups like Teach for America which are significantly whiter than the teaching force.

Yes, at the socialist-organized Left Forum, Casey tossed the race card on the table, accusing Teach For America of "whitening" New York City public schools.

Teach For America told EAGtv that its members comprise less than 1% of the teaching force in New York City and about 60% TFA members are white. Those facts are merely a distraction to Casey in his racial smear campaign.

My child's teacher could be purple and look like Barney the Dinosaur – if he or she is an effective teacher and can help my son excel, so be it. Why are leftists always so focused on race?

Does Randi Weingarten, whose organization oversees UFT, stand by Casey' sickening comments or repudiate them? As in the case of the California Federation of Teachers resolution honoring cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, she has remained silent.

It would behoove the unions to work in the best interest of children and make sure the best teacher possible is in front of every child in America, regardless of their skin color.

Teach For America is having a positive impact on some of America's worst schools, and gutter attacks by the likes of Leo Casey and the United Federation of Teachers should not be tolerated.


NYC Teachers Union Plays Race Card Against Progressive Teachers Group

Email Kyle Olson | Columnist's Archive

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In New York’s Schools Chief, a Knack for Quiet Conciliation

A generally favorable cover story in today's NYT about NYC's new schools chancellor, Dennis Walcott:

After early work mentoring children in Queens and a searing stint in Harlem finding homes for crack babies — he even adopted two children of an addict — Mr. Walcott rose to the presidency of the New York Urban League, one of the city's premier civil rights groups. But in the racial turmoil of the Giuliani years, Mr. Walcott refrained from getting arrested alongside scores of politicians and other black leaders in demonstrations against police brutality. He chose to advise the embattled police commissioner behind the scenes, trusting that his subdued approach would be more likely to win results.

All along, his trademark has been forbearance, and in his new role as New York City's schools chancellor, Mr. Walcott will test whether the nation's full-tilt approach to urban education reform is ready for a different kind of leader. But for the past nine years as a deputy mayor whose main responsibility was to oversee the Department of Education, he has left only the faintest of fingerprints during a time of momentous changes to the schools.

In a lengthy interview, Mr. Walcott struggled to name any achievements for which he had been the driving force, finally citing the creation of an early-literacy program for children in public housing and a mayoral Office of Adult Education.

In a City Hall populated with visionary strategists, managerial wizards and publicity magnets, Mr. Walcott was none of these. Working between a strong-willed mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, and a tenacious chancellor, Joel I. Klein, he seemed more comfortable in a role as deputy mayor for mollification: mediating disputes, calming tensions and endlessly listening.

That, of course, may be precisely what is needed at this moment: Mr. Walcott is taking over the nation's largest school system after a disastrous experiment with Cathleen P. Black, at a time of low mayoral approval ratings and with teacher layoffs and other retrenchments in the offing.

But Mr. Walcott, 59, concedes that despite his years in City Hall, there is little record on which to judge whether he is the right person to defend, advance and improve upon Mr. Bloomberg's education agenda of test-based accountability, welcoming charter schools and closing failing ones.

"People will question spine," Mr. Walcott said. "I'm very confident about decision-making and toughness. It will be my actions they have to take a look at over the next two and a half years to determine whether there is spine or not."


In New York's Schools Chief, a Knack for Quiet Conciliation

Published: April 23, 2011

This article was reported by David M. Halbfinger, Javier C. Hernandez and Fernanda Santos and written by Mr. Halbfinger.

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Assessing New York’s Commissioner of Education

Peter Meyer with a well-deserved profile of NY State Ed Commissioner David Steiner, who regrettably is leaving that position (but not the bigger fight):

David Steiner's leaving rattled people. His elevation to head the state's education system in October of 2009 had been hailed as a providential pick. With a philosophy degree from Oxford and a doctorate in political science from Harvard, and following stints at the National Endowment for the Arts and Boston University's School of Education, he was most recently head of Hunter College's School of Education. Steiner, then just 51, was the education reform world's dream because he was an insider. And he charged out of the gate, instituting tougher benchmarks for the state's 3–8 tests, initiating a major effort to write a statewide curriculum, and leading the charge to win a berth in the Race to the Top winner's circle.

…Saying that Tisch had "plucked" him out of academia to "plant a vision," to find the funding for it, and to launch a radical reformation of the New York education system, Steiner is satisfied that "we've done that…. Chapter one is written. The key to chapter two is grinding implementation. And if you know me, you know that is not what I'm suited for."

Indeed, Steiner's chapter one is not a bad start. When I first interviewed him last December, he seemed fully engaged in the grinding implementation. Though he admitted that "the economic conditions on the ground are a huge, huge contextual challenge," I was less interested in those challenges than in how, in a few short months, he had helped turn the Empire State from a poster child for education indolence, overregulation, overspending, and underperformance—an also-ran in Education Next's poll of expected RttT winners (see—into an animated system with audacious academic strategies and goals, new (and higher) standards, aggressive timelines for meeting those goals, and, defying the odds, a silver medal and $700 million for finishing second in last summer's RttT competition.

It is in that story that we can understand the bittersweet feeling of many New York educators that they have lost their leader before they got to the Promised Land.

Perhaps it was all just a coincidence, but David Steiner was the right man, in the right place, at the right time. He was savvy enough to understand the importance of Race to the Top and able enough to turn the state's education energies toward it.

The article has a nice mention of DFER's critical role in the reform bills Albany passed (somewhat miraculously):

They were helped by a lobbying blitzkrieg led by Joe Williams and former Bloomberg campaign manager Bradley Tusk, who put together, with ample funds from Wall Street, Education Reform Now (ERN), a group with a single purpose: to bring the state legislature into the RttT reform fold.

Williams spread ERN money around on everything from brochures and mailings to door knocking in key legislative districts. "We ran $4 to $5 million worth of television ads," Williams recalls, "blaming the teachers union for losing the chance to win $700 million in round one and urging the legislature to bring home the money for New York."

The Williams team crafted a campaign not about teacher evaluations or firewalls or charter schools, but about "whether New York should get $700 million from Obama," says Williams. "We wanted this to be an up or down vote on progress and the money."

"The union, in my view, did not want to be blamed for not getting Race to the Top," recalls Joel Klein, then chancellor of New York City's public schools, which enrolled almost half the K–12 students in the state. "But I don't think for a second that they were prepared to agree with lifting the [charter school] cap….

…But ERN had also found the key public relations nuance that made the money work: Walking away from $700 million in a recession was not smart. No one would get lost in the weeds on that message.

…It was important enough to New York's legislature that, on Friday, May 28, just a few days shy of the June 1 deadline, the Senate and Assembly voted on Chapters 100, 101, 102, and 103 of the Laws of 2010, to remake the teacher evaluation process—40 percent of the "composite effectiveness score" would be based on student achievement—allow for 260 more charter schools, and appropriate $20.4 million for a new longitudinal data system.

"It was an extraordinary moment," says Steiner, who had gone to the Assembly Hall at three in the morning with Tisch and King to watch the vote. "I had tears in my eyes."

"What had been considered impossible months before was now a done deal," recalls Williams.

Here's the conclusion:

Steiner could have stayed, but he may be a man who knows his gifts and his abilities as well as his limitations. One of those limitations, in the political world, is his unflinching ability to see past the politics. He's a "wonderful man," said one insider, "but he is an academic thrown into a knife fight—usually not a good thing."

"I suspect the endless political battles wore on him," says Whitney Tilson, the hedge-funder turned education reformer. "Given the vicious, and I use that word deliberately, tactics often employed by defenders of the status quo, reformers need to have absolutely extraordinary levels of stamina, patience, thick skin, and a willingness to do battle in dirty, muddy trenches every day. I know I couldn't do it—it drives me nuts just watching it!"

"The part of David Steiner that will be missed," says Joe Williams, "is the refreshing disrespect he paid to the education bureaucracy." That may be true or not, but it is true that Steiner had a surprising success turning that bureaucracy around. Finding the person who can steer it through a radically changed landscape will be New York's next challenge.


Assessing New York's Commissioner of Education

With Steiner's sudden resignation, will the state continue its Race to the Top?

By Peter Meyer

Summer 2011 / Vol. 11, No. 3

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Radio show

I did a half-hour radio show about charter schools (it starts at 31:50):  Some funny moments when a nutjob blogger who's been stalking me calls in at 50:24 and accuses me, among other things, of bad-mouthing teachers (the typical union talking point against anyone who dares to point out cases in which the unions throw children under the bus).

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The Limits of School Reform

Joe Nocera is one of the best business writers in America and I'm delighted that he's recently moved from the NYT business section to the even more widely read and influential NYT op ed page.  So it was with dismay that I read his column that will appear in tomorrow's paper, in which he buys – hook, line and sinker – into the utter nonsense (which the unions and Ravitch repeat endlessly) that school reformers think a student's demographic/family background doesn't matter and "that great teachers and improved teaching methods are all that's required to improve student performance, so that's all the reformers focus on."  NO WE DON'T!!!  NOBODY believes this!  So how does Nocera justify this completely wrong-headed statement?  Apparently from this quote:

Yet the reformers act as if a student's home life is irrelevant. "There is no question that family engagement can matter," said Klein when I spoke to him. "But they seem to be saying that poverty is destiny, so let's go home. We don't yet know how much education can overcome poverty," he insisted — notwithstanding the voluminous studies that have been done on the subject. "To let us off the hook prematurely seems to me to play into the hands of the other side."

But Klein isn't saying what Nocera says he is.  Rather, he's saying that, yes, family engagement (and education level, whether both parents are in the house, wealth, books in the household, whether the family is on welfare, the age of the mother at the birth of the first child, etc.) matter A LOT, but – and this is a HUGE but – this is NOT an excuse for schools to give up on kids from disadvantaged backgrounds, to stick with the worst teachers, have low/no expectations, fail to teach the majority of them to read at even a basic level by age 10, etc. – which is EXACTLY what is happening every day to millions of poor and minority children.


We reformers absolutely acknowledge the importance of students' demographic/family backgrounds – heck, the sad truth is that demography IS destiny for the vast majority of American children.  However, we REFUSE to accept that if a child is difficult to educate, then we should give up on him/her and make excuses for widespread, abject failure.  Instead, we DEMAND that every principal and every teacher in a school serving disadvantaged kids be as capable and committed as Ramón González and Emily Dodd (who were profiled in Mahler's article; by the way, when I blogged about this article earlier this month (, I was too sensitive to the anti-reform stuff in it and thus dismissed it too easily; it's well worth reading: What Nocera doesn't seem to realize is: 1) how rare people like González and Dodd are in schools like M.S. 223; and 2) the only reason they're there is BECAUSE of the heroic efforts of reformers like Klein.


I wonder what Nocera would do if he had a son who had a learning disability of some sort and couldn't afford to send him anywhere except the nearby public school.  What would his reaction be if the principal and teachers said, "Joe, your kid isn't so bright and it would require a lot of extra effort to educate him at a high level, but extra hours aren't in our contract and he probably isn't going to amount to much anyway, so we're going to stick him with the crappiest teachers at the school and not do anything extra for him."?  Nocera would rightly go berserk – if it was his kid – but it doesn't seem to bother him that this attitude is, in fact, the norm at the typical school that low-income, minority kids in this country are forced to attend.  This fact fills me with outrage – and I'm going to give Nocera the benefit of the doubt because he's new to this issue and assume that he, too, would be filled with outrage and would not have written what he did if he knew better.


April 25, 2011

The Limits of School Reform


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Markets Aren't the Education Solution

Diane Ravitch – ooops, I mean Randi Weingarten (who appears to be plagiarizing from Ravitch) – with a lot of nonsense in an op ed in today's WSJ:

A month ago, education ministers and teachers union presidents from the 16 top-performing and improving countries—including Finland, South Korea, Singapore, Brazil and Canada—came to New York to participate in an international conference on public education sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the U.S. Department of Education. The education leaders of these countries presented with impressive clarity all the methods they are using to improve student learning and strengthen teacher quality.

During the conference, it became abundantly clear that market-based reforms promoted by the so-called reformers in the United States have little in common with the education policies in these leading nations. And well before the conference, it was increasingly clear that there has been little or no evidence in the last 20 years to show that market-based reforms have transformed schools and increased student learning.

With supreme certainty and blind zeal, market-based reformers are doubling down on an agenda that has failed to produce the transforming gains they promised. They disparage and delegitimize any gains that traditional public schools as well as their teachers (and their unions) have delivered for kids.


Markets Aren't the Education Solution

Top-performing countries revere and respect teachers. They don't demonize them.


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Market-Based Education Reform? (Logico-Rhetorical Analysis: Randi Weingarten)

THANK YOU Conor Williams for doing what I love to do (but just wouldn't have time for tonight): rebutting Randi's op ed, line by line, in a scathing, hilarious fashion:

They disparage and delegitimize any gains that traditional public schools as well as their teachers (and their unions) have delivered for kids.

Huh? Who? When? Where? Is anyone, on any side of the education reform wars, unhappy when kids do well in public schools? Again, this would be a lot easier if your opponent wasn't so amorphous. Whoever these "market-based reformers" are, they're really bad. BAD. And this is a kind of cute trick you're pulling, because not naming anyone makes it impossible to hold you accountable. Has someone somewhere at some point "disparaged" and "delegitimized" traditional public schools? Probably. Does this mean that everyone you disagree with is a—shudder—market-based reformer? You're somehow simultaneously shadowboxing, straw-man destroying, and painting with a broad brush. That's a helluva trifecta. I didn't even know that was possible. It's also dishonest, self-serving, cynical, disingenuous, and worse. So yes, it's a cute trick, but it's not doing much for your argument.

Market-based reformers advocate using student test scores to evaluate and compensate teachers, increasing the number of charter schools, firing teachers in low-performing schools, and relying on corporate executives and business practices to run school districts. This ideological approach has generated a great deal of media attention, and it has been sold aggressively by its advocates. But there is increasing evidence it doesn't work.

Here we go! Something like a categorical definition! Problem is, none of these things have much to do with markets. A few thoughts: Sure, some tests are designed by for-profit companies. Dixon Ticonderoga is also a publicly-traded, for-profit corporation, but that doesn't make pencil-using schools "market-based." As for firing teachers in low-performing schools, I suppose companies do fire members of low-performing departments, but that hardly makes it a market-based thing…unless you think that prioritizing effectiveness or accountability at all is the sole province of markets. (Also, you know as well as anyone that that's a loaded way of phrasing it. A more neutral—and accurate—version might be: "consistently low-performing teachers in consistently low-performing schools," but that would expose a massive crack in the "foundations" of your argument thus far).

In fact, your "4 Characteristics of The Market-Based Reformers" aren't necessarily linked by ANY principle (market efficiency, any particular theory of justice, etc). For example, it's perfectly possible for someone to be in favor of firing teachers in low-performing schools while opposing increases in the number of charter schools. None of these four positions implies any of the others…which means that this isn't so much a definition as a laundry list of things that you don't like about some particular opponents of yours. Again with the broadest of brushes.

…You don't have to look beyond our borders to find schools in which teaching and learning are producing impressive results. School districts like New Haven, Conn., Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Hillsborough County, Fla., and ABC Unified in Los Angeles County are all focused on high-quality teaching, improving student learning and registering solid gains. Like the leading nations, these districts have built a culture of collaboration and teamwork, including systems of teacher evaluation that focus on teacher quality and continuous improvement. They believe that equity in education is essential and that all children, regardless of economic circumstances, should receive an excellent education. And they share a strong belief that students succeed when everyone—teachers, parents, administrators and elected officials—takes responsibility for their education and well-being.

This is a fun game! Can I play? I'll list charter schools that are succeeding in a bunch of places! New Haven! Baltimore/Los Angeles/dozens of other districts! Of course, this isn't an argument, especially since neither of us bothered to provide any specifics about how either of our lists was doing anything effective. Who needs standards? Who needs evidence? Who needs data? Who needs effective models for school and district success? Those are "market-based" shams! And those are Very Bad! Why? Because they're market-based!

Remind me to define "tautology" for you someday, Randi.


Market-Based Education Reform? (Logico-Rhetorical Analysis: Randi Weingarten)

Posted by CPW (Conor Williams) April 25, 2011 Leave a Comment

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Charter School Facility Space, Emails & ...Birthdays?

Peter Murphy adds to my response to Winerip's article about charter schools and space in NYC:


All District Schools Get "Free" Space - So Should Charters
Back to the serious: the question is never really asked in the article about the conundrum--a scandal, really--of why any charter school should have to pay "rent" at all. Every district school is in "free" space, yet charter schools, none of which get facilities funding, must fight for this privilege, even as the legislature has added more and more hurdles to obtaining district space.

Charter schools having to pay for a roof over their head with a lack of facilities funding is the primary factor in the unequal treatment of public school children in New York. Any true advocate for "equitable" funding and fair treatment in public education--a mantra we hear constantly--cannot legitimately overlook this mistreatment of charter students attending schools like Growing Up Green and dozens of other charters throughout the city and state.

It's one thing for district schools and their advocates to fight over sharing space they think may not exist in sufficient quantity for charters. But, if a charter loses out on district space, then the just policy should be to provide an added funding stream for private space. That would be a win-win for district and charter students alike.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Charter School Facility Space, Emails & ...Birthdays?

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On 'No Child,' no going back: An architect of education reform says Obama's wobbly on accountability

Sandy Kress with some VERY interesting statistics – and a somewhat unfair, I think, criticism of the Obama administration:

It is certainly no secret that our nation's students are not achieving at the level they should. But here's a secret that seems to be well hidden: Our younger students, particularly those that are disadvantaged, have made dramatic achievement gains in the 2000s, reversing a stagnant trend in the previous decade.

Did you know that in 2008, black 9-year-olds were reading two grade levels ahead of where they were in 1999? According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, this is true.

Did you know that in 2008, Hispanic 9-year-olds were handling math problems two grade levels ahead of where they were in 1999? This is also true.

Did you know that in 2009, eighth-grade students with disabilities were reading almost two grade levels above where they were in 2000? Again, this is true.

Even though reading scores for 13-year-olds are flat (a national problem we have yet to address), it is also true that black 13-year-olds fully caught up the grade level they dropped in the 1990s and gained another half grade level by 2008. This progress in the 2000s narrowed the white-black gap by roughly a grade level.

What has caused these and other similar gains? Most researchers say the biggest factor was that in the late 1990s, states began to implement policies holding schools accountable for improving education for children. Further, in 2001, the Congress extended those policies to schools in all states through the bipartisan No Child Left Behind Act.

Today, if schools shortchange students, especially subgroups of disadvantaged students, improvement in the operation of the school is required. Student problems can no longer be swept under the rug. Because of "consequential accountability," business as usual is no longer acceptable.

Make no mistake: Much more than accountability is needed, and we have a long way to go. But accountability works. It must stay. And indeed its reach must be extended to those grades that have not yet experienced growth, especially in high schools.

Now, here's the second big secret: For all of its promise to bring about education reform early in the term, the Obama administration wants to turn back the clock on accountability.

No Child Left Behind does indeed need to be fixed and updated. But it would be a classic case of throwing the baby out with the bath water to abandon its pillars of accountability.

Yet this is precisely what the administration is proposing to do.


On 'No Child,' no going back: An architect of education reform says Obama's wobbly on accountability

Monday, April 18th 2011, 4:00 AM

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Fact-checking Sandy Kress

Mike Petrilli responds to Kress:

These claims are true as far as they go. For instance, according to the NAEP, the average reading score for Black 9-year olds rose from 186 in 1999 to 204 in 2008–an increase of 18 points. (At 10 points per grade level that comes close enough to the "two grade levels" of progress Kress claims.) Hispanic 9-year olds increased their average reading scores from 213 in 1999 to 234 in 2008–an increase of 21 points. Fourth-grade students with disabilities increased their reading scores from 167 in 2000 to 189 in 2009.

But here's the kicker: almost all of these gains had occurred by 2004. For Black 9-year-olds, 78 percent of the improvement took place in the five years between 1999 and 2004, compared to 22 percent in the four years between 2004 and 2008. For Hispanic students, 81 percent of the gains occurred between 1999 and 2004, compared to 19 percent between 2004 and 2008. For fourth-grade students with disabilities, 91 percent of the gains occurred in just two years: between 2000 and 2002.

In fact, this tremendous improvement in the late 1990s and early 2000s is one of the great mysteries of education policy. Nobody knows for sure why it happened. As Kress indicates, Eric Hanushek and others have found plausible evidence to credit accountability-based reforms. But it's impossible to know whether it was "accountability" in general–or NCLB in specific–that drove the scores upward. No Child Left Behind was enacted in January 2002 and started to be implemented that fall; students had at most a year and a half of the NCLB "treatment" before sitting for the 2004 NAEP. So it's hard to argue that NCLB gets a lot of credit for these improvements.


Fact-checking Sandy Kress

Posted by Mike Petrilli on April 20th, 2011 at 10:50 am

Former Bush White House adviser (and NCLB drafter) Sandy Kress turned in a very compelling New York Daily News op-ed on Monday arguing that President Obama has gone "wobbly" on education accountability. In the piece, Kress presented impressive NAEP data illustrating the big gains that minority and special needs students have made since the late 1990s.

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Kress responds to Petrilli:

Kress responds to Petrilli:

I hope everyone is ready to get wonkish!

Let's deal with the easy part - gains on the Long Term Trend for students with disabilities (SWDs) and English Language Learners (ELLs) from 2004-2008. This is squarely within NCLB time.

9 year old SWDs improved a half grade level (5 points) in reading.

9 year olds ELLs improved almost a grade level (8 points) in reading.

9 year old SWDs improved over a half grade level (6 points) in math.

9 year old ELLs improved 3 points in math.

13 year old SWDs improved 3 points in math.

13 year old ELLs improved over a half grade level (7 points) in math.

13 year old SWDs improved almost a full grade level (9 points) in reading.

13 year old ELLs improved 2 points in reading.

Now, since Mike is enamored of the Main NDE, let's look at that data:

For 4th grade math, it is true that SWDs had an incredible jump from 2000 to 2003, from 200 to 216. I don't want to argue this was due to NCLB, but, since there's almost a full academic year since the summer of 2002 in this data, I would suggest that this bridge period probably shouldn't be used for a pre and post analysis.

In any event, 4th grade SWDs have gone up 7 points since 2003, which is a gain of over a half a grade level. 4th grade ELLs had that nice pop in 2003, too, but also have grown an additional half grade level since.

It is incontestable that something unusual happened in NAEP testing between the late 1990s and 2002 and 2003, first a drop and then an unusual increase. I can't explain it, and I suspect Mike can't either. I invite thoughts from any and all of you on that topic.

Nevertheless, it is heartening to see that 4th grade ELLs have improved over a half grade level in reading since 2002, and SWDs have improved almost a half grade level as well.

The same pattern of a pop in 2003 occurs in 8th grade math with further gains for SWDs and ELLs after 2003. Reading at the 8th grade level is stagnant.

Even with all this back and forth on data, which I'm happy to continue with anyone who is interested, I stand fully behind my thesis: consequential accountability, which began in many states in the mid-1990s and was extended and deepened by NCLB, works! Any weakening of its pillars threatens the progress we've made.

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Obama is DFER's Ed Reformer of the Month

It's hard to believe, but the 2012 Presidential campaign has, for all intents and purposes, already begun.  I will be supporting President Obama again.  Yes, he's made some mistakes and I sometimes wish he'd fight harder for certain principles I know he believes in, but I think 90% of what people criticize him for isn't his fault.  The best analogy I can give is a bridge player who's dealt terrible cards and then has to choose the least-bad card to play each time, with his mortal enemies screaming "You bum!" at him every time he's forced to play a bad card. 


Take the economy: it was in a state of complete collapse when he was elected, yet today, 2 ½ years later, it's recovering nicely.  I never would have believed it, given that there was utter panic in the markets and we were on the verge of another Great Depression.  Obama deserves tremendous credit for getting the big calls right: he engineered a big government stimulus/liquidity injection (to be fair, Bush deserves credit for initiating this), he intervened to help the automakers get back on their feet, yet didn't nationalize the banks (those who accuse him of being a socialist have yet to explain that one).  Yes, under- and unemployment remain a big problem and he should have been much tougher on the banks/Wall St., but I think it's a minor miracle that we are where we are today.


And on education, my big issue, President Obama been exceptional.  He appointed and has fully supported a true reformer, Arne Duncan, as Secretary of Education, and backed a revolutionary program, Race to the Top, a competitive distribution of nearly $5 billion of federal education funding.  For this reason, Democrats for Education Reform has made him Ed Reformer of the Month (and "he's really more like the education reformer of the decade.").  I just donated $2,500 to his reelection campaign and hope that if you choose to donate as well, you'll do so via the DFER web page HERE.

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Gotta love this bit of cleverness – someone has started a Twitter account called OldDianeRavitch at that posts old quotes from her that are completely at odds with her current views.  There are some real gems!  My favorite: "NYC schools chancellor should have the power to close schools that consistently fail or engage in corrupt practices."  Today, of course, Ravitch doesn't believe that any school should ever be closed for ANY reason:


OldDianeRavitch @DianeRavitch Many states are clamoring to reduce class size, but few are grappling with the most important questions.

7 minutes ago  in reply to DianeRavitch

OldDianeRavitch @DianeRavitch Public contracting is often referred to as "privatization," but that label is misleading.

13 minutes ago  in reply to DianeRavitch

Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Ic_retweet_tweetChrisTessone Oh wow. @OldDianeRavitch is the find of the afternoon, absolutely classic. With citations! RT @MichaelPetrilli

about 3 hours ago, Retweeted by OldDianeRavitch

OldDianeRavitch It may be harder to graduate from high school than to become a certified teacher.

about 3 hours ago

Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Ic_retweet_tweetMichaelPetrilli OK, so whoever came up with @OldDianeRavitch is brilliant. @DianeRavitch, you might get a kick out of it.

about 3 hours ago, Retweeted by OldDianeRavitch

OldDianeRavitch @MichaelPetrilli I agree. Every school should have the power to select its own teachers, remove the incompetents.

about 4 hours ago  in reply to MichaelPetrilli

OldDianeRavitch Texas model has successfully improved the performance of black and Hispanic students, particularly in math and writing

about 5 hours ago

OldDianeRavitch Congress should focus on the quality, not quantity, of the nation's teaching corps.

about 5 hours ago

OldDianeRavitch NYC schools chancellor should have the power to close schools that consistently fail or engage in corrupt practices.

about 5 hours ago

OldDianeRavitch Every classroom should have a well-educated, knowledgeable teacher. We are far from that goal today.

about 5 hours ago

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Winerip’s hatchet job

Another email about Winerip's hatchet job:


I was a journalism major at UNC Chapel Hill, which is (of course) a public university. The policy of the journalism school was that if you had a fact error (e.g. you spelled someone's name wrong or got the name of an organization incorrect), it was an automatic minus 50. Any other spelling or grammar error was an automatic minus 15. Then, the professors graded the actual content of what you wrote. With these high standards, we learned quickly to prioritize accuracy and double-check for spelling or grammar issues.


Winerip's article would have scored a -150. That's actually a generous score, for it assumes a perfect score on the content. It also would have failed in any news writing course, for it was clearly an editorial piece that would not have been allowed by our professors.


It was shameful that the New York Times published such a piece.

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Locke response

In response to my last email about Alexander Russo's new book about Green Dot's turnaround of LA's infamous Locke High School, Stray Dogs, Saints, and Saviors: Fighting for the Soul of America's Toughest High School (, Justin Coppedge writes:


I was particularly heartened by your mention of the review of Russo's book. I taught Biology at Locke during the summer of 2007 as part of my TFA Institute training. The photos of the main entrance instantly took me back to late June of that year when I first saw Locke through the window of the school bus we took each day from CSU-Long Beach. It is exciting to know that transformative change is underway there to the benefit of students. I'm in my fourth year teaching at my original TFA placement school in St. Louis and it is very similar (though on a smaller scale) to the "old" Locke. While unfortunately we have been unable to make the substantive changes that have begun to turn Locke around, hearing of their success makes me hopeful the same can happen here.

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Education Secretary Duncan: U.S. schools need to get 'better faster'

Also per my last email, Arne Duncan spoke at Princeton yesterday and knocked the cover off the ball.  I love that Duncan took the time to meet with the amazing students at Students for Education Reform (, which started at Princeton:

Junior Catharine Bellinger, a Woodrow Wilson School major who is executive director of the national nonprofit organization Students for Education Reform, asked Duncan about challenges the government faces in implementing major changes in student assessment and teacher evaluation standards in a short period of time.

"There's risk in all of these things," Duncan said. "With raising standards, there's risk. With changing assessment, there's risk. But I constantly say 'don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good,' and for far too long in education, if something wasn't perfect, we wouldn't do it.

"For five decades, we've had teacher evaluations that are absolutely meaningless. … There will be choppy times in there, but my goal is three years from now we'll be a lot better off than we are now," he added.

After the event, Bellinger said she appreciated the secretary's words.

"It was inspiring to hear Secretary Duncan encourage young people to take leadership positions in the field," she said. "It was also important that he recognized the challenges we face in closing the achievement gap."

Bellinger, who attended the event with members of the Princeton chapter of Students for Education Reform, said her group was working to hear Duncan's call and work with him to build the next generation of teachers.


Education Secretary Duncan: U.S. schools need to get 'better faster'

Posted April 20, 2011; 08:45 p.m.

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