Thursday, September 30, 2010

Newark's Mayor Woos Schools Backers

The good news for Newark keeps coming, as my friend Bill Ackman's Pershing Sq. Foundation donated $25 million to lead the match of Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million gift.  $40 million of the match has already been committed in only a few days!  Here's an article in yesterday's WSJ, in which I'm quoted:

Newark Mayor Cory Booker is expected to announce Monday that he has raised $40 million of the $100 million needed to match a grant put forth last week by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to help Newark schoolchildren.

One major boost is from the Pershing Square Foundation, started by New York investor William Ackman, which pledged $25 million in recent days.

…Mr. Ackman said in an interview Sunday his pledge represents a belief that the problems in the Newark school system "are fixable within a reasonable period of time." Mr. Ackman, who runs Pershing Square Capital Management, met Mr. Booker before his first mayoral run in 2002 (Mr. Booker lost) and has contributed to his campaigns since then.

…"The people who are investing this money in Newark have high expectations and they are performance-driven people," said Whitney Tilson, a Pershing Square Foundation board member who will be Mr. Ackman's representative on the board. "We will look to fund programs that have demonstrated proven effectiveness in raising student achievement."


Newark's Mayor Woos Schools Backers


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Zuckerberg at KIPP

Zuckerberg visited the KIPP high school in Newark, Newark Collegiate Academy, this weekend.  Here's a report from a friend who was there:

It was an amazing day.  Despite all the hype in the media about him being awkward or not sociable, Zuckerberg was a natural in front of the class and spent about an hour talking with the students and answering questions.  He had a great, totally KIPP response about the movie coming out about him, explaining to the students that it was unfortunate that Hollywood oversimplified all the HARD WORK by many people that has gone into making Facebook what it is today.   He said he is worried the movie will just make it seem like it was a great idea, and one day of work, and poof, you have Facebook.  A great lesson for the kids and totally on message with what he told them over and again about the importance of hard work.  It was a great visit and a great day for Newark in general.


Photos at:

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Sen. Michael Bennet

I spent some more time yesterday with Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet and am even more convinced that this is the single most important race in the country for ed reformers.  With the renewal of Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind coming up in Congress, the importance of having a former superintendent who is a true reformer cannot be overstated.  Plus, he is such a good guy, a pragmatic centrist, a seasoned businessman, honest as the day is long, no ego, and just wants what's best for this country.  There are so few people like him in politics – if he loses, it will be a sad day for our country.  Intrade shows him only 34% likely to win, so he has his work cut out for him and REALLY needs our support, so please do so at:  Below are appeals from ed reformers Jon Sackler and Richard Barth, and here's what I sent around after meeting Sen. Bennet last June (

STOP THE PRESSES!!!  I spent two hours with Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) on Friday afternoon and he ROCKS!  He's incredibly smart (among other things, he was Editor-in-Chief of the Yale Law Journal), highly accomplished in both the nonprofit and for-profit sectors (he's already applying his business expertise on the Senate Banking Committee, trying to mitigate, as he puts it, "unintended consequences"), and is a really nice, down-to-earth, high-integrity person.  You don't find this mix very often -- especially in a politician!  I'd strongly support him even if he weren't an innovative leader in education reform -- which he is.

Every education reformer in the country should, if not meet him, at least be very familiar with him because he is already leading a major school reform effort in the Senate and his stature and influence will only grow as he establishes himself -- he's only been in the Senate for four months!  This all depends, of course, on whether he gets elected in Nov. 2010 -- no mean feat, given that he was not elected but rather appointed to fill the seat vacated when Ken Salazar was appointed Secretary of the Interior.  If ends up serving in the Senate for many years, I have no doubt that he will become one of the country's most powerful, energetic and influential advocates of genuine education reform.

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Gov. Christie

I also had the pleasure of sitting in on a meeting with NJ Gov. Christie yesterday.  He clearly cares passionately about fixing our schools, especially in Newark, where he was born to immigrant parents and lived until he was 5, when his family moved after the 1967 riots.  He also worked in Newark when he was U.S. Attorney for seven years from 2002-08.  He spoke after the Newark premiere of Waiting for Superman on Saturday and here's an email from a friend about it (my emphasis added):


Check out Gov. Christie's speech (too quiet unless you wear headphones):  Here's my transcript of the highlights:


This is the fight.  And sometimes the fight will be angry, and sometimes the fight will be loud… but for those of you who do not have the stomach for that fight, I would ask you to go home today, and ask yourselves why.  Because if you are not moved by what you just saw, and the plight of those children and their families, then I wonder why you're here today.  All I know is this:  I would not be standing here today if it wasn't for the fact that my parents could send me to public schools that would give me the best possible public education… You already hear the naysayers.  You already hear the people threatening lawsuits, the people speaking out against a true act of generosity, inspired by a hope to make life better for the children of this city. 


So I have a message.  I have a message for the politicians who've decided that their careers are more important than our children:  I'm coming.


I have a message for the lawyers who have made a lifetime out of suing us into failure.  I'm coming.


I have message, I have a message much more importantly, for the parents of the city of Newark who want the very best for their children, a message for the children of the city of Newark, who want hope that tomorrow will be better than today, and as that woman put so appropriately, that they just don't want a job, they want a career, I have a message for them too, and it's much better than the messages I just gave to those other folks.  It's not, 'I'm coming.'  I'm praying that it's 'we're coming.'  We're coming.  We're coming… [applause] 


The clapping part is easy.  It is now time to engage the fight…. I will not accept failure as an option, and I would rather lose the election, lose my career, than have to look in the mirror and say that I decided that my career was more important than the future lives of the children in the city where I was born.


There's more, too, but these are some of the best lines.


Here's the press conference afterward:


Funny Christie comments at approximately:


-          Christie on the lawyers who are suing:  7:20

-          Booker talking about the community:  12:00


(Speaking of Waiting for Superman, I provided the filmmakers with some of the charts in the movie so I'm very proud to be in the credits at the very end.  It's getting rave reviews from critics – overall, 16 critics give it an 85 out of 100 average at Metacritic:

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4,100 Students Prove ‘Small Is Better’ Rule Wrong

This front-page story in today's NYT about the turnaround of a failing high school – one of the biggest in the country – is a REALLY important one.  Here's why: there is no bigger champion of high-performing charter schools, but after enormous effort over more than a decade, charter schools have a mere 3% market share – and maybe only 10% of them are schools any of us would send our kids to, so that's 0.3%.  I'm not knocking this incredible, inspiring effort and the impact has been FAR more than 0.3%, as these schools have been laboratories of innovation, shown what's possible, and literally changed the national debate on this issue – but the reality is that we will NEVER be able to replace the existing system, even with unlimited facilities and funding for charters, full-blown voucher/tax-credit programs, etc., so to serve ALL kids well, WE MUST FIX THE EXISTING SYSTEM!  Therefore, we should be studying, publicizing, funding, and seeking to replicate the type of school-based, teacher-led efforts highlighted in this article:

A decade ago, Brockton High School was a case study in failure. Teachers and administrators often voiced the unofficial school motto in hallway chitchat: students have a right to fail if they want. And many of them did — only a quarter of the students passed statewide exams. One in three dropped out.

Then Susan Szachowicz and a handful of fellow teachers decided to take action. They persuaded administrators to let them organize a schoolwide campaign that involved reading and writing lessons into every class in all subjects, including gym.

Their efforts paid off quickly. In 2001 testing, more students passed the state tests after failing the year before than at any other school in Massachusetts. The gains continued. This year and last, Brockton outperformed 90 percent of Massachusetts high schools. And its turnaround is getting new attention in a report, "How High Schools Become Exemplary," published last month by Ronald F. Ferguson, an economist at Harvard who researches the minority achievement gap.

What makes Brockton High's story surprising is that, with 4,100 students, it is an exception to what has become received wisdom in many educational circles — that small is almost always better.


The most interesting line of this article is this one:

Some teachers dragged their feet. Michael Thomas, now the district's operations director but who led the school's physical education department at the time, recalled that several of his teachers told him, "This is gym; we shouldn't have to teach writing." Mr. Thomas said he replied, "If you want to work at Brockton High, it's your job."

Does this mean that Thomas could have fired the gym teacher?  I highly doubt it – the union would have grieved it (and won).  I think what really happened here is that a core group of teachers (let's say 20%) developed a plan, it started to work, and then momentum built that drew in the middle 60%.  That left the least competent, most burned out and/or least caring 20% of teachers in the minority – and they were likely feeling the peer pressure, which is FAR more powerful than threats to fire someone.


I've seen similar dynamics at work in all sorts of turnarounds in the corporate world.  20% of the employees are motivated, effective and working hard, 60% are in the middle, and 20% are bad apples.  There's a tug of war between the top and bottom 20% and the middle 60% will follow whoever wins.  Thus, the key to turnarounds is twofold: A) Motivate and empower the top 20% and help them show some quick success, so they can "tip" the middle 60%; and B) quickly remove a bunch of the bad apples (which of course is MUCH harder to do in schools than in a business).


4,100 Students Prove 'Small Is Better' Rule Wrong

Published: September 27, 2010

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The Shocking State of Our Schools

I posted five video clips that captured all of Friday's amazing Oprah show, but for some strange reason clip #2 and clip #5 had no audio, so I've reposted them:


I forgot to mention this in my last email: be sure to watch Geoff Canada's answer to Oprah's question about what the unions should do: commit to an extra hour a day.  Sadly, I suspect that hell will freeze over before they'd give an extra minute a day without full compensation.


In addition, here's another 32 minutes of discussion among Gov. Chris Christie, Mayor Cory Booker, Geoffrey Canada and Mark Zuckerberg that didn't air:


Finally, if you haven't watched last Monday's Oprah (, at the end of this email is a quasi-transcript of it that's posted on  Here's an excerpt:


Clearly, our education system is in dire straits, so who's at fault? Michelle Rhee, chancellor of Washington, D.C., public schools, says children are not the problem, adults are.

"Everybody knows I love good teachers, and there are so many thousands of you—great ones—in this country," Oprah says. "So we're not talking about you if you are a good teacher."

Michelle says we can trace the problems back to an entirely different group of educators. "The reality is that we have some ineffective teachers, some bad teachers, who are in classrooms every day who are doing a disservice to our children," she says. "The data shows if [children] have three highly effective teachers in a row versus three ineffective teachers in a row, it can literally change their life trajectory."


The Shocking State of Our Schools   |   September 20, 2010

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Tougher on Tenure

Bloomberg and Klein with another important step in the right direction.  Tenure should be abolished completely, of course, and replaced with a system that protects teachers from capricious firings and other abuse (and no more), but until that happens, the next-best solution is to make tenure tough to earn:

The city is making it harder for public-school teachers to get tenure, requiring their students to show progress in consecutive years before instructors gain the coveted job protection.

Traditionally, in New York City as in other places, tenure is granted to teachers three years and a day after they begin working. Critics have complained that the protections that tenure accords ineffective teachers makes them hard to remove. Before a teacher reaches tenure, principals can more easily fire them—but they rarely do.

Five years ago, fewer than 1% of New York City teachers were denied tenure. But last year, 11% of teachers were denied tenure or continued on probation, amid a push by schools Chancellor Joel Klein for greater teacher accountability.

Monday's announcement, which was made by Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a New York education conference, goes a step further—by creating new rules for when principals can grant teachers tenure, rather than leaving it up to their subjective judgment or inaction.


Tougher on Tenure


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3 of 4 candidates for R.I. governor back Gist, Race to the Top

Below is an article about the Rhode Island governor's race, with comments from a friend:


This is a critically important race -- it is now abundantly clear that if Chafee is elected governor in RI, he will stop education reform here dead in its tracks.  That's why he has the strong endorsements of both the NEA and the AFT.  Caprio (D, supporter of ed reform) and Chafee (R-now-I, opposes reform) are running neck-in-neck.  We must do everything we can here to get Caprio elected or we risk setting back all the progress we have made. Those interested in helping can donate or learn more about Caprio at

Chafee is, I believe, the first candidate for office who wants to give back or "alter" RTTT.  Unbelievable!


3 of 4 candidates for R.I. governor back Gist, Race to the Top

01:00 AM EDT on Tuesday, September 28, 2010

By Jennifer D. Jordan

Journal Staff Writer 

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'Waiting for Superman' shows what's wrong with urban education; Baltimore innovators know how to fix it

A nice review of Waiting for Superman in the Baltimore Sun, with well-deserved props to KIPP Ujima and a plug for an investing conference in Baltimore on Thursday to benefit the Children's Scholarship Fund Baltimore and Southwest Baltimore Charter School:

The only thing missing is a legal structure allowing it to happen. Baltimore's KIPP Ujima Village Academy, whose overwhelmingly poor and black students are consistently some of the highest achievers in the state, struggled to survive last year because the local union initially refused to let the school's teachers work the longer hours required by the curriculum. Jason Botel, executive director of KIPP Baltimore, says he hopes the movie pushes legislators to allow high-performing charter schools to have the freedom to extend their school days.

Damion Cooper is one parent who knows the power of KIPP. His daughter Alexis is a seventh-grader at Ujima Village Academy, where students and their parents have teachers' cell phone numbers.

Alexis used to struggle in math and stayed back a grade when entering KIPP because of her test scores, he said. She's now an A student and qualifies for entrance to elite private high schools.

"You see the care and concern of the teachers," said Cooper, who is the community outreach coordinator for City Councilman Bernard "Jack" Young. "I love that they say we are going to follow your kid from the time they enter school to the time they enter college."

Every state legislator should see this movie. Then they should give every child the chance to succeed like Alexis and her 369 fellow students at KIPP Ujima Village Academy by strengthening the state's charter law this year. They should also pass tax credit legislation that has stalled in the General Assembly for years that would make it easier for businesses to give to both public and private schools.

Those who would like to help all students achieve their potential do not have to wait for legislators, however. You can donate to KIPP and to other high-performing schools. And buy a ticket to the Next Generation Investing ( event Thursday, where attendees will hear exclusive stock tips from top investors including Brian Rogers of T. Rowe Price Group and Bill Miller of Legg Mason Capital Management. Proceeds will help the Children's Scholarship Fund (where I am a board member) to give more than 400 partial scholarships to low-income Baltimore City children and students at Southwest Baltimore Charter School.


'Waiting for Superman' shows what's wrong with urban education; Baltimore innovators know how to fix it

4:51 p.m. EDT, September 27, 2010,0,2997511.column

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Reforms, not desegregation, will bring school advances

A great editorial in the Boston Globe (emphasis added):

Reforms, not desegregation, will bring school advances

September 26, 2010


THE CLOSING of the achievement gap between white and minority students in Massachusetts — or any other state, for that matter — is not going to come about through housing integration anytime soon. This battle will have to be won within individual urban school districts, like Boston's, where minorities often comprise 90 percent or more of the student body. 

A new study from the Institute on Urban Health Research at Northeastern University cites public schools in the metropolitan Boston and Springfield areas as among the most segregated in the country. It's nothing to be proud of, surely. But residential segregation in Northeastern and Midwestern cities is a common phenomenon with no quick or easy fix. And in states like Massachusetts, which has a strong tradition of local autonomy, there are few regional school systems that link minority students, who are often concentrated in cities, with whites from nearby suburbs.

Parents, educators, and public officials have to decide which mountaintop to fight on when attacking the achievement gap. They can accept the recommendation of the Northeastern University authors and try to create a student-assignment plan that encompasses multiple school districts. Or they can immediately start applying the best lessons of education reform — a longer school day, on-site social services, greater flexibility in hiring and scheduling — in poorly performing urban schools.

The latter is the smart and realistic course. Suburban officials are struggling, in many cases, to keep their own schools and basic services at acceptable levels. They are not looking to import students from the city, especially poor ones with expensive needs. And courts, by and large, frown on plans that use race as a major factor in assigning students.

Urban schools are pretty much on their own, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Massachusetts charter schools, which make maximum use of the education reform law, are closing the achievement gap with a vengeance. In percentage of students who scored advanced or proficient on the latest MCAS test, the Community Day Public Charter School in Lawrence, where 88 percent of students are Hispanic, ranked second in the state in Grade 8 math. By the same measure, the Boston Preparatory Charter School topped the state in the 10th grade math MCAS test. And the Edward Brooke Charter School in Roslindale ranked first in the state in grade 7 math and English. Each has a minority enrollment higher than 93 percent.

Families in urban areas can't afford to pick up en masse and move to the suburbs. And suburbs, as a rule, aren't going to make accommodations that undermine local control. But minority students from urban areas can outperform their suburban peers if provided the right educational opportunities close to home.


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Oprah on Waiting for Superman (again)

STOP THE PRESSES!!! (this applies to this entire email)  Oprah did another entire show on Friday about Waiting for Superman and this one was even better than Monday's show (which was amazing – see:  Links to the five segments are posted at:


In particular, you MUST watch Geoff Canada at the beginning of the show (video clip #1) – I've never heard a more passionate articulation of what this issue is about and the moral imperative of addressing it.  He's also come up with an even better analogy for the failure of the status quo: his former one was, "I know of no system in the world that is failing as badly as our schools in which everyone goes home at 3pm."  His new one is: "It's like your house is on fire and you call the fire department.  They come and are putting out the fire, and then at 3pm they leave.  You say, 'But what about my house?!'  And they say, 'Sorry, the contract says our day is over.'"


Then, Cory Booker speaks as passionately as Canada about this issue, then Mark Zuckerberg announces his $100 million grant to help transform Newark's schools, then Gov. Chris Christie appears to say he's giving his (near-dictatorial) powers to Cory, so Cory will have full mayoral control so he can do what's necessary.  VERY powerful stuff!


By the way, Oprah mentions on the show that she visited North Star, she and Cory talk about Uncommon Schools, and then she mentions Julie Jackson, who is principal of North Star Elementary School and is one of the all-time great legendary teachers and leaders.

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Zuckerberg $100M grant to Newark schools

Here's the press release about Zuckerberg's grant:

On today's Oprah Winfrey Show, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker launched the Partnership for Education in Newark, an unprecedented commitment to improve public education, with the support of Facebook® Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Governor Christie and Mayor Booker have committed to a bipartisan initiative to ensure every school-aged child in Newark has access to a high-quality education that prepares them for a successful future and a better quality of life. To begin this new Partnership, the Governor has authorized Mayor Booker to work with the local community to develop and implement a comprehensive education plan for the future of the Newark Public School District, based on clear standards and metrics that reward excellence in teaching, school leadership and student achievement. The plan will be carried out under the Mayor's leadership over the next few years.

To support these efforts, Zuckerberg announced the creation of a new foundation – Startup: Education -- with an initial gift of $100 million to improve educational opportunities for young people in America. The foundation's first project will be to measurably improve academic achievement for Newark students and create a national model for rewarding excellence in education. Mayor Booker has also announced the creation of the Newark Education and Youth Development Fund, a separate non-profit organization whose goal is to secure an additional $100 million to match the challenge grant available through Zuckerberg's foundation, as well as an additional $50 million to serve disaffected youth.

"Mayor Booker and I are thrilled to accept Mark Zuckerberg's challenge – to work with the Newark community to dramatically elevate the potential of public education in the City of Newark, throughout New Jersey and across the nation," said New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.  "Collectively, we believe the best way to secure and improve our nation's future is to create the highest quality.


New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker Join With Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg to Advance a National Model for Improving Public Schools



Zuckerberg to Establish $100 Million Foundation — Startup: Education — to Improve Student Success and Champion Great Teachers, Starting with Newark, New Jersey

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Students Caught in the School Squeeze

Waiting for Superman opening in NY and LA last night – I was the NY premiere (the 5th time I've seen it).  It's an AMAZING movie – please see it and tell all of your friends to see it as well.  It got a great review in the NY Times:

"Waiting for 'Superman' " is filled with disturbing statistics. In Illinois, where one in 57 doctors loses his medical license and one in 97 lawyers loses his law license, only one in 2,500 teachers loses his credentials, because of union rules. The film briefly visits a "rubber room" in New York City where idle teachers accused of misconduct wait months and sometimes years for hearings while drawing full salaries at an annual cost of $65 million.

The resistance to change is personified by Randi Weingarten, the fiery and articulate former head of the United Federation of Teachers, who now runs the American Federation of Teachers. Ms. Weingarten, who is somewhat demonized by the film, is the first to admit that public education is in crisis, but she represents thousands of teachers who depend on tenure.

Caught in the squeeze are students. The film's most emotional moments revolve around five children whose futures depend on winning a lottery to a charter school. Anthony, a Washington fifth grader raised by his grandmother in a bad neighborhood, is among 64 applicants for 24 spots at the Seed School, a public charter school from which 9 out of 10 students go on to college. Francisco, a Bronx first grader, is among 792 applicants for 40 spots at the Harlem Success Academy. Applying to the same school, Bianca, a kindergartner, is one of 767 children competing for 35 spots. Daisy, a fifth grader in East Los Angeles who dreams of being doctor, is among 135 applicants for 10 spots at Kipp LA Prep.

…By showing how fiercely dedicated idealists are making a difference, it is a call to arms.

The movie's happy-sad ending observes the moment of decision as the five children wait to learn if they have won the lotteries. It is sad that the direction of a young life depends on the dropping of a numbered ball from plexiglass box.

The union organized protests at last night debut on the upper west side of NY.  They had on superman-like capes with RR, which stood for "real reformers" (HA!) and were doing a totally goofy song and dance.  The media (and the theatergoers) ignored them.


September 23, 2010

Movie Review | 'Waiting for Superman'

Students Caught in the School Squeeze


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In conjunction with the release of WFS, Education Reform Now has launched a web site and advocacy effort – please sign up at  Here's the email from ERN's Executive Director Van Schoales:

Dear Friends,

Today marks an important milestone in American public education reform.  The important new film Waiting for "Superman" opens in New York and Los Angeles. Check out a great review in the NY Times today.

Later this afternoon Education Reform Now launches the largest coalition of non-profits (which will grow daily) for education reform called in collaboration with the Waiting for "Superman" social action campaign here.

Our "Done Waiting" coalition is focused on gathering citizens to work to support change in local, state and federal policy so that every child has an effective teacher and great school.

Waiting for "Superman" gives Americans a first-hand look at the problems plaguing our public schools, and it makes clear that the status quo must change.  Davis Guggenheim's film is a gift to all of us. Thanks to this movie, there will be a new awareness by whole group of ordinary Americans of the serious challenges we must solve.

The film underscores the inequity that exists in our current system—that a student's zip code can mean the difference between a life of opportunity and a life of poverty.   The movie also dispels some long-held myths— parents are at fault, or that schools cannot make a significant difference for low-income students—and unmasks the special interests that are truly preventing children from getting a great education.

While there is still much to be learned to improve our public education system, we do know the power of an effective teacher and how to build school cultures and programs so that most students will be prepared for life, college and work. 

Our biggest challenge to creating an effective public education for most American kids is creating the political will to say we are "done waiting" and know what to do.  This will require all of us working harder to enlist a broader group of people to join our movement and demand policy change at the local school board, state and federal levels.  

Why should schools remain open that fail 80% to 90% of their students while there are often some schools in the same communities serving similar students where most are succeeding.  It's insane!   We need to rapidly promote and replicate success while we stop doing things that don't work.

I've been working at this for 22 years (nothing compared to many of my heroes in education reform like Howard Fuller, Debbie Meier and the late great Ted Sizer) but I have to say these last few years are really the first time I've felt like we collectively have the knowledge and now the will to make it work for many more kids. 

You're going to hear and see a barrage of media over the next month that will try to convince you of simple solutions of which there are few, but know that we have made progress and it is possible to dramatically improve public education. 

Also know that we have to fix our public schools if we are to solve or even make a dent in all the environmental, political, economic, social and security problems that we are facing now and are only likely to get worse in the coming decades.

The American public education was a great system for the 20th century but is now far from delivering what is needed for the 21st century.  We can't afford to have over half of our urban youth unable to read, write and perform basic math not to mention being able to do critical thinking and other essential knowledge and skills.

So look for later today and sign up.  We need you and ten others to help push the system to change. 

Please shoot me an email if you'd like your non-profit to join the coalition or have enlisted other organizations. We have about 70 as of now.  We want as many organizations to join with us to co-brand as the largest mobilization for education reform.

Thanks, Van Schoales

Executive Director, Education Reform Now

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Is there any end to the anti-Obama anger? I can't even talk politics with my friends anymore

Last but not least, the NY Daily News published on its web site a column I wrote about my concerns about the political polarization that's taken place in our country:

For someone as optimistic and energetic as I am, it's a very strange feeling being totally pessimistic about the future of our country. The political polarization has reached such an extreme that I find that I can't even have a conversation with people who don't share my general political views.

On the rare occasion that I do have such conversations - often with good friends whom I really respect, and whom I think are moderate and thoughtful people - I'm stunned by the vitriol they express toward Democrats in general and President Obama in particular. They genuinely, passionately believe that Obama is a liar, a socialist, a hater of Israel and a terrorist appeaser.

It's nothing short of bizarre and it fills me with despair. If I can't even have talk about politics with good friends, then there's no hope for any kind of unity and compromise in our political system, which we so desperately need given the enormous challenges we face. Instead, I see us going down the road of Kenya (which I'm familiar with because my parents and sister live there), in which politics is tribal and it's kill or be killed (sometimes, literally), and where no tactics, no matter how despicable, are off the table.

We're still a long way from this, of course, but the trend is troubling - and if it doesn't reverse, I fear we are doomed to a future of political paralysis which will lead to stagnation and mediocrity, like Japan in recent decades. We will always be an enormously wealthy country - as Japan still is (it has 10 times the GDP per capita as China, for example) - but if my fears prove correct, we will not be the dynamic, vibrant, inspiring, truly great country we once were.


Is there any end to the anti-Obama anger? I can't even talk politics with my friends anymore

Thursday, September 23rd 2010, 1:30 PM 

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The Oprah show yesterday on Waiting for Superman was AWESOME!  I've posted links here so you can watch all of it (sans commercials, courtesy of Tivo): (watch it now, as YouTube could yank it at any time).  Davis Guggenheim, Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee and John Legend were guests, plus two of the children profiled in the movie with their moms were in the audience.  Oprah award six charter schools $1 million each: Aspire (CA), Learn (Chicago), YES Prep (Houston), Mastery (Philadelphia), New Orleans Charter Science & Math Academy, Denver School of Science & Technology.  Kudos!


On a number of occasions, Oprah looked right into the camera and said, "You MUST watch this movie."  Great stuff!


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Gov. Chris Christie

Speaking of great videos, Gov. Chris Christie of NJ lays it out in no uncertain terms when challenged by a teacher at an open forum (this video has 646,178 hits!):

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Closing the Talent Gap (McKinsey study)

A VERY important new study by McKinsey entitled, "Closing the talent gap: Attracting and retaining top third graduates to a career in teaching".  Here's the summary (

Improving teacher effectiveness to lift student achievement has become a major theme in U.S. education. Most efforts focus on improving the effectiveness of teachers already in the classroom or on retaining the best performers and dismissing the least effective. Attracting more young people with stronger academic backgrounds to teaching has received comparatively little attention.

McKinsey's experience with school systems in more than 50 countries suggests that this is an important gap in the U.S. debate. In a new report, "Closing the Talent Gap: Attracting and Retaining Top-Third Graduates to Careers in Teaching ," we review the experiences of the top-performing systems in the world—Singapore, Finland, and South Korea. These countries recruit, develop, and retain the leading academic talent as one of their central education strategies, and they have achieved extraordinary results. In the United States, by contrast, only 23 percent of new teachers come from the top third, and just 14 percent in high poverty schools, where the difficulty of attracting and retaining talented teachers is particularly acute. The report asks what it would take to emulate nations that pursue this strategy if the United States decided it was worthwhile.

The report also includes new market research with nearly 1,500 current top-third students and teachers. It offers the first quantitative research-based answer to the question of how the U.S. could substantially increase the portion of new teachers each year who are higher caliber graduates, and how this could be done in a cost-effective way.

Look for the chart in the study that I found most interesting, showing how top countries select, train and manage their teachers – and we pretty much stink at every element.

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Cutbacks Are Part of Plan to Save Parochial Schools

An article in yesterday's NYT about a very sad phenomenon – the closure of urban Catholic schools – and the bold steps Archbishop Timothy Dolan in NYC is taking.  Too bad the article doesn't deal with the much bigger issue: the utter INSANITY, from a societal perspective, of allowing inner-city Catholic schools – which are often oases of safety, discipline and rigor – to close, while throwing massively more money at catastrophically failing public schools nearby.  Why not give parents a choice: we'll spend $16-17,000 on your child at a public school (the average in NYC), but if you don't think it's right for your child, we'll give you a voucher (perhaps funded by a tax credit) for only HALF the amount that you can use to pay for a private school?  This would empower parents, be another source of pressure on failing public schools to improve, likely result in better outcomes for students (including those "left behind"), AND save taxpayers money!

For more than a quarter-century, while Roman Catholic leaders around the country have closed parochial schools by the dozens in the face of rising costs and falling enrollments, the Archdiocese of New York has conducted a more stately retreat. It has shuttered schools a few at a time, in a reluctant if relentless downsizing that has come to be known among some church leaders as "the melancholy rite."

Now, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan is signaling that he will soon mount a more aggressive effort to prune the number of schools and ensure the future of those that remain.

In speeches and articles over the last few months, the archbishop has sketched the broad outlines of a plan that includes consolidating or closing many of the 216 elementary schools in the system, changing the way parochial schools are financed and — for the first time in the archdiocese's 160-year history — redefining the basic relationship between Catholics and their schools.

Each elementary school has until now been financed mainly by members of its local parish. In the proposed reorganization, the cost of educating roughly 56,000 grade school students would be spread among all the parishes, and all the plate-passing churchgoers among 2.5 million Catholics in the archdiocese.

All dioceses have struggled with the steady loss of enrollment in parochial schools, which are considered important as feeders for Catholic high schools and colleges, and as developers of lifelong faith. Yet despite the loss of more than 1,500 schools in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and other major cities in the last decade, no church leader has suggested changes as sweeping as Archbishop Dolan's.


Cutbacks Are Part of Plan to Save Parochial Schools

Published: September 20, 2010

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College grads in U.S. expand their advantage in job security

A story on the front page of yesterday's WSJ about how college grads, relative to high school grads, not only earn higher wages, but are less likely to get laid off and, if they are, are more likely to quickly find another job:

Fifteen years after high school, the working lives of Tremell Sinclair and Phyllis Sellars have evolved very differently, largely because of a single decision. Ms. Sellars went to college; Mr. Sinclair didn't.

That decision has always shaped their economic prospects, but never more so than during the recent recession: Ms. Sellars kept her white-collar job, recently landing a pay raise, while Mr. Sinclair was laid off from his forklift driving job last year and only just found a new one—at a 46% lower salary.

The classmates illustrate a divide between the fortunes of Americans with college degrees and those without. It's not only that the college educated earn more, but that they are far more likely to keep their jobs when times get tough.

By some measures, recession has exacerbated the divide. The unemployment rate for workers 25-and-older with a bachelor's degree or higher was 4.6% in August, for example, compared with 10.3% for those with just a high-school diploma. That's a 5.7-percentage-point gap, compared with a gap of only 2.6 percentage points in December 2007 when the recession began.

Laid-off college graduates are also finding work faster. Their median duration of unemployment was 18.4 weeks as of August, compared with 27.5 weeks for high-school grads. Three years ago, that figure was roughly the same for both groups—9.5 weeks and 9.6, respectively. And among the worst-off 25-and-older workers, the 5.2 million who have been out of work six months or more, only 19% are those who graduated from college, even though that group makes up a third of the work force.

Yet because college is increasingly expensive and doesn't guarantee a good job at a good wage, skepticism about the value of college is rising, even as the U.S. government pours more money into helping people get degrees.


College grads in U.S. expand their advantage in job security

Recession exacerbates the growing divide faced by those without degrees against educated peers

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Rhee initiative that will, thankfully, outlast Rhee

Kudos to Friends of Bedford (and to Rhee shutting down horrific schools and bringing in good operators):

As prospective mayor Vincent Gray's education advisors begin to discuss changes in the way Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee ran D.C. schools, it should quickly become apparent they should keep their hands off one of Rhee's smartest moves — handing management of Coolidge and Dunbar high schools to a sharp team of educators from New York City.

Lost in all the primary election skirmishing over teacher dismissals and conflicting test score data was this encouraging statistic: under the Friends of Bedford group, in just its first year here, the portion of students testing proficient or advanced in reading went from 38 percent to 53.6 percent at Coolidge and from 18.2 percent to 31.9 percent at Dunbar. No other high school in the city came close to making such gains in a subject where improvement here has been rare.


Rhee initiative that will, thankfully, outlast Rhee

Jay Mathews

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Nick Lemann, Dean of the Columbia University School of Journalism, tries to make the argument that our educational system – both K-12 and post-secondary – isn't as broken as the current consensus view, and that Waiting for Superman is too simplistic.  He's completely wrong on the former, as it relates to our K-12 system – it's actually MUCH worse than most people think – but he's right that our post-secondary system, for all of its flaws, is still the envy of the world.  As for Waiting for Superman, I think he mischaracterizes it.  The movie does NOT focus solely on charter schools.  Rather, the movie is quite comprehensive, showing, for example, the societal costs when students aren't educated properly, and how utterly impossible it is to fire even the worst teacher, resulting in travesties like the "Turkey Trot" (aka, "Dance of the Lemons" and "Pass the Trash").  Nor does the film claim that charter schools are the solution to all that ails public education.  Instead, it shows that high-performing schools serving low-income, minority kids CAN change life trajectories and that parents are desperate to get their children into such schools (contrary to the popular belief that "those" kids can't learn and "those" parents don't care about their childrens' educations).

It should raise questions when an enormous, complicated realm of life takes on the characteristics of a stock drama. In the current school-reform story, there is a reliable villain, in the form of the teachers' unions, and a familiar set of heroes, including Geoffrey Canada, of Harlem Children's Zone; Wendy Kopp, of Teach for America, the Knowledge Is Power Program; and Michele Rhee, the superintendent of schools in Washington, D.C. And there is a clear answer to the problem—charter schools. The details of this story are accurate, but they are fitted together too neatly and are made to imply too much. For example, although most of the specific charter schools one encounters in this narrative are very good, the data do not show that charter schools in general are better than district schools. There are also many school-reform efforts besides charter schools: the one with the best sustained record of producing better-educated children in difficult circumstances, in hundreds of schools over many years, is a rigorously field-tested curriculum called Success for All, but because it's not part of the story line it goes almost completely unmentioned. Similarly, on the issue of tenure, the clear implication of most school-reform writing these days—that abolishing teacher tenure would increase students' learning—is an unproved assumption.

…We have a lot of recent experience with breaking apart large, old, unlovely systems in the confidence of gaining great benefits at low cost. We deregulated the banking system. We tried to remake Iraq. In education, we would do well to appreciate what our country has built, and to try to fix what is undeniably wrong without declaring the entire system to be broken. We have a moral obligation to be precise about what the problems in American education are—like subpar schools for poor and minority children—and to resist heroic ideas about what would solve them, if those ideas don't demonstrably do that.



by Nicholas Lemann September 27, 2010 

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Oprah on Waiting for Superman

Set your Tivos for Oprah tomorrow (Monday) as well as Friday, as she highlights Waiting for Superman.  Here's the blurb for Monday: "Go inside the gripping documentary that exposes the shocking state of our school system with director Davis Guggenheim, Bill Gates, John Legend and the controversial Michelle Rhee."  I hear there will be a BIG announcement on the show on Friday as well.

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Even Top Teachers Get Laid Off

Three cheers for Barbara Martinez for writing a story about what laying teachers off solely by seniority REALLY does to kids: far too often, it means a dynamic young teacher achieving remarkable results in the classroom is laid off while a horrific teacher with greater seniority is retained.  Shame, shame!

Then, in June, Mr. Leon lost his job. He was one of about 300 public-school teachers laid off in Newark this year, and, like many cities across the country, the law said the last teachers hired had to be the first ones fired—a method favored by teachers unions that takes no account of a teacher's efforts, abilities or effectiveness.

Basing layoffs on seniority "is a sad example of how policies aren't aligned for what's best for schoolkids," said Tim Daly, president of the New Teacher Project, a nonprofit that helps school districts recruit and retain quality teachers. In struggling urban schools in particular, students "can't afford to have a single great teacher cut in a way that maybe a kid in a suburban school district could," he said.

Mr. Leon was the only social-studies teacher to be laid off at Arts High. Of the remaining five social-studies teachers at the school, two were rated less than proficient last year. One of those teachers was rated in a category defined as "fails to establish a culture of learning...fails to communicate clearly...inability to use standard English."

The other teacher who was rated poorly was rated in a category in which a teacher "frequently calls out sick on staff development days" and has shown "patterns of absenteeism and tardiness" exceeding the district's standards. In the classroom, a teacher in this category "demonstrates minimal understanding of the subject," according to the school system.

Martinez knows what's really going on in Newark because she attended public schools there through 8th grade when she had to leave because she would have been beaten up at the high schools…


  • SEPTEMBER 20, 2010

Even Top Teachers Get Laid Off


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Michael Mulgrew Gloats on NY1 After Dubious Teachers Union "Victory" in Election

Just as I predicted, Mulgrew is claiming a big victory in NY, but he's full of it (what else is new?).  In reality, it was a tie, which is a HUGE positive shift when compared to the last few decades, when the union ran the table with no opposition whatsoever.  We couldn't knock out their incumbents (Perkins, Montgomery and Huntley), but they couldn't knock out ours (Hoyt and Bing, who had the biggest margin of victory in any of these races).  Importantly, in one of the few races for an open seat, a big supporter of ed reform, Robert Rodriguez, won.  Here's an article (in the Village Voice no less!) about Mulgrew's delusions, with a quote from DFER's Joe Williams:

The Michael Mulgrew victory tour took an embarrassing turn on NY1 last night, when the United Federation of Teachers president gloated throughout an extended interview, overstating a very mixed primary day report card

…The other race Mulgrew doesn't want to talk about is the shellacking he took on the eastside, where Bing got 84 percent of the vote against a UFT chapter chairman, Gregg Lundahl. "I went from the union coming to my 40th birthday party to me being referred to as dead to the union," Bing said. Though Bing is also a quiet supporter of charters, it was his bill to alter lay-off policy that drove the UFT nuts. He introduced a bill last session, backed by the mayor and the chancellor, that would have set up a panel of teachers, principals and administrators to make layoff decisions, rather than let seniority be the sole standard used in deciding which teachers lose their jobs (seniority would become just one factor considered by the panel). That was all it took for Lundahl to brand Bing "anti-union" and "the notorious chief assembly sponsor" of the bill.

Ironically, Mulgrew actually claimed on NY1 that the union makes broad-based endorsement decisions. "It's never about a single issue ever," he claimed. But that's precisely what they did with Hoyt and Bing, and their all-out effort for Perkins, who's received nominal UFT support in the past, was clearly a consequence of his charter school hearing, a circus of anti-charter bluster.

Joe Williams, the head of Democrats for Education Reform and a leading backer of charter reform, told the Voice that "the strut" the union was taking now "was a little bit disingenuous."

"My experience" said Williams, "is that they make every decision with one issue in mind, amassing their power." He said the chest-thumping is all about showing that they've "regained the upper hand." Williams acknowledged that the school reform movement might have been better served by simply backing the legislators that supported charters with big bucks rather than trying to beat the opponents. "It's much easier to rev people up" and get charter backers to contribute when "you're trying to take someone out" who's opposed charters.

Williams thinks that the ultimate passage of the bill that lifted the charter cap and won the $700 million in Race to the Top funding took the steam out of the races against Perkins and others. His own organization sent thousands of "thank-you" letters into the districts of every incumbent who voted for the final charter bill, even those, like Perkins, who tried to kill the first bill in May. He said charter supporters are strongly backing John Sampson, the leader of the Democratic conference who sponsored the initial charter bill.


Michael Mulgrew Gloats on NY1 After Dubious Teachers Union "Victory" in Election


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Obama’s Class Project

Mulgrew can have his three lame NY State Senators – we'll take the President!  Here's Jonathan Alter with a brilliant piece:

The good news, which should inspire a little hope (though not the usual complacent overconfidence), is that the education-reform movement in the United States—the most critical social movement of our time—has made more progress in the last year than in the previous 10. The push for reform, which began with the 1983 government report "A Nation at Risk," had been stymied for years by what's sometimes known as "The Blob"—the collection of bureaucracies, school boards, and teachers' unions committed to protecting the failed status quo. But Obama is the first Democrat who was elected president without the early support of teachers' unions (they backed Hillary Clinton), and he has seized the opportunity. Only a fierce anticommunist like Nixon could go to communist China, and only a Democratic president like Obama can push through accountability measures that Democratic unions have resisted for years. Waiting for Superman (full disclosure: I appear in the film, directed by Davis Guggenheim) doesn't cover Obama, but it's a terrific primer on the political and institutional forces at work, as well as a heartbreaking human story. Critics are already saying that the film could do for accountability in education what Guggenheim's earlier documentary An Inconvenient Truth did for the climate-change debate.

…All this reform has kicked off a family feud within the Democratic Party, and the forces of the status quo are fighting back. When a few House Democrats tried to gut Race to the Top, Obama issued a veto threat. Now Republicans want to prevent White House efforts to replicate the success of Geoffrey Canada's Harlem Children's Zone. (It was the charismatic Canada who explains in the film that he waited in vain for Superman to save him as a kid.) For the first time ever, substantial numbers of Democrats back real reform, though important reformers like Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado and Rep. Tom Perriello of Virginia face tough campaigns this fall.

The two major teachers' unions have diverged recently. The American Federation of Teachers, headed by Randi Weingarten, even helped enact a teacher- tenure-reform bill in Colorado that's a national model. By contrast, the hidebound National Education Association is still bitterly opposed to any accountability. Obama insists that education policy center on what's good for students, not adult interest groups. Through that lens, everything clarifies.

The national conversation is still more focused on diversions like Sarah Palin's antics than strengthening our education system and, by extension, our economy and collective future. When we look up in the sky, Superman isn't coming. But a social movement "more powerful than a locomotive" is headed down the tracks, if only we'll hop aboard.


Obama's Class Project

U.S. education reform has made more progress in the last year than in the previous 10. How the president is driving the effort.


by Jonathan Alter

September 13, 2010

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Fenty's Loss in D.C.: A Blow to Education Reform?

Fenty's loss in DC was a big one, but as I noted earlier, it wasn't primarily due to his embrace of genuine reform and support of Rhee, as Andy Rotherham points out in this Time article:


It's worth noting, however, that although pundits frequently described the mayoral primary as a referendum on Rhee — whose high-profile efforts to clean up the school district included her much criticized decision to pose, broom in hand, for a cover of TIME in 2008 — she was not the only factor in the Sept. 14 poll results. Fenty's loss turned on a number of issues, including his managerial style; the Washington City Paper had endorsed him, begrudgingly, as "the jerk the city needs."


School of Thought

Fenty's Loss in D.C.: A Blow to Education Reform?

By Andrew J. Rotherham Wednesday, Sep. 15, 2010,8599,2019395,00.html#ixzz0zeQ1Ko8F


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Is D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty's Loss a National Defeat for Education Reform?

That said, education reform WAS an issue that hurt Fenty.  Michael Lomax, the President and CEO of the United Negro College Fund and a genuine reformer, writes about the lessons:

Fenty and Rhee persuaded the foundations, the reformers and the media. But they failed to persuade the one group that could have kept both of them in office: low- and moderate-income African-American voters.

There's a lesson here for education reformers in other cities. Real education reform is disruptive. You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs. Beloved teachers lose their jobs. Neighborhood schools that have anchored communities are closed or reconstituted. But with the disruption comes a rebirth of education, a rising tide that lifts all parts of the community.

Education reformers need to make that case. They need to make it to the parents who have the largest stake in quality education: their children's futures. They need to make it not only to foundations and editorial writers but also to neighborhood leaders, small-business entrepreneurs, and ministers and their flocks. In other words, they need to make it to the people with whose support reform will not only succeed but take root.

Because if they don't, other reformers will find themselves with Fenty and Rhee in the history of education reform, in the chapter titled, "What Might Have Been."


Is D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty's Loss a National Defeat for Education Reform?

Fenty's schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee, made headlines and no shortage of enemies in her quest to revamp the city's troubled schools. In rejecting Fenty, were black voters rejecting school reform too?,1

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